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Williams is a freshman force for Delaware
CAA sacks leader is still learning
Returning starting linebacker Jessel Curry’s Delaware football season ended before training camp because of a variety of injuries.
Then, in August drills, expected starting linebacker David Mackall, a Maryland transfer, was lost for the season with a foot injury. So was first-stringer Kyle Hunte with a second injury to the knee that knocked him out for all of 2011.
Then Derek Battle blew out his knee and, suddenly, redshirt freshman Jeff Williams found himself as a starting outside linebacker for the Blue Hens.
“We slated Jeff to be probably our fifth, sixth or seventh linebacker coming into the season,” coach K.C. Keeler said, “somewhere in that range, figuring he’d help us on special teams, maybe get in a package.”
“I was hoping to at least be second string,” Williams said.
Instead, Williams will start his ninth game Saturday when the 23rd-ranked Blue Hens (5-3, 2-3) tangle with No. 19 Towson (4-4, 3-2) at noon at Delaware Stadium (NBC Sports Network).
And he’ll do so as the Colonial Athletic Association’s leader in sacks (6.5) and tackles for lost yardage (12.0). One of those sacks, of Rhode Island quarterback Bob Bentsen, resulted in a safety in Delaware’s 47-24 win Oct. 20.
“There’s no question,” Keeler said, “he should be the favorite for [CAA] rookie of the year defensively.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Williams still is surprised to find himself in the starting lineup for the Blue Hens, especially at linebacker.
“I had to do a lot of growing up a lot quicker,” Williams said.
But Williams is the first to admit he has much to learn.
That’s often quite obvious at UD practices, too, where Williams is frequently the cause of linebackers coach Brad Sherrod’s loudest lectures or Keeler’s most stern corrections.
“I know I could have done a lot better, first couple games,” Williams said. “Now I’m getting used to it and I’m a lot more comfortable. It was just a matter of stepping up to the challenge.”
The challenges certainly increase this week against Towson, which is averaging 417.4 yards per game and 6.0 yards per play and features the CAA’s most feared back in Terrance West (96.7 ypg).
The Tigers are balanced enough that they’ve gained just one more yard rushing (1,670) than passing (1,669).
“A lot of motions, a lot of shifts. … We’re really going to have to be on our toes,” Williams said.
At Freeport (N.Y.) High, Williams was a three-year starter on teams that went 31-5 and was All-State and team MVP as a senior. Syracuse showed recruiting interest as a receiver or a safety, but Williams wanted to play linebacker and chose Delaware over Maine and Stony Brook, preferring the Hens’ winning tradition. They were coming off an NCAA title game appearance when he signed.
Williams was one of three freshmen linebackers in the 2011 recruiting class. The other two – Battle and Pat Callaway – played as true freshmen last season.
“He was the one we thought was furthest away, but we also felt he was the one who had the most upside,” said Keeler, who described Williams as more “raw” coming out of high school.
Speed is what sets Williams apart. Keeler said Williams “can run with any” of Delaware’s wide receivers, which is no small accomplishment.
“He’s tremendously talented,” Keeler said, “and he will tell you: Every day he plays, he gets better, and we’re going to be really happy next year, all the experiences he’s had this year. But, sometimes, there are some growing pains to go through because it’s a lot, in our scheme, for a young player to play as many reps as he’s been playing.”
Towson running back Clayton Minott, a redshirt freshman out of Concord High, has appeared in three games, netting four yards on three carries. … Delaware has a plus-six turnover ratio this year compared to Towson’s minus-9. … The Hens have allowed 22 sacks, second most in the CAA. Towson has permitted the second fewest (nine). … Towson has the CAA’s leading kickoff return man in Derrick Joseph (26.3 ypg). He ran back a kick 99 yards for a touchdown this year against St. Francis and last year for 93 yards against New Hampshire. … After losing 17 straight against nationally ranked FCS teams, Towson has won seven of 11.
By Kevin Tresolini, The News Journal