By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
You’ll have to forgive Deonte Williams if his head’s spinning a little these days.
A two-time all-state linebacker at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman was the backup middle linebacker coming out of the spring, made two starts at rush end, switched to strongside linebacker for the Big 12 opener against third-ranked Oklahoma and then started at defensive end for the Sept. 30 game at Kansas State.
“It’s complicated,” said Williams, who has recorded 10 tackles, a combo stop behind the line, two QB hurries and a fumble recovery. “I just listen to my coaches and what they have to tell me. And then, I try to do it hard every time I go out there and give my best rep, and eventually I’ll get it.”
That’s not exactly the ideal situation for any player, much less a redshirt freshman that’s still trying to learn the college game. But, “he’s decided to do whatever gets him on the field the most,” said defensive line coach Elijah Robinson.
“Just because of how athletic he is, and he’s not selfish, he’s willing to do whatever is best for the team,” Robinson said. “He does whatever we ask of him. He’s going to have a bright future if he continues to be that way and continues to work at all those things.”
Head coach Matt Rhule said you don’t want to move a young player around that much, “but that’s kind of where we are.”
“We think he’s going to be a really good pass rusher at some point,” Rhule said. “Deonte has a lot of talent. It’s just him understanding the importance of playing hard, the urgency of details, the importance of being where you’re supposed to be. It’s all those sort of ‘young guy,’ redshirt freshman sort of things that we need him to accelerate. But, Deonte can be and will be at some point a difference-maker for this football team.”
At Prestonwood, Williams was a three-year starter for a team that went 34-8 and made three straight trips to the TAPPS DI state finals. As a senior in 2015, he had 88 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one recovery on a 12-2 team that won it all.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Being part of a championship team, you kind of forget what it’s like to be on a winning team, doing your job, not messing up. And it carries over to college, just doing your job and doing what you need to do to help your brothers out.”
That was a hard thing to do last year, when Williams was one of just two freshmen from the original 2016 signing class that redshirted.
“It was rough, because I like to go out there and compete and play,” he said. “I just cheered on my brothers and made sure they stayed in the game in and I stayed in the game, so it just felt like I was there with them.”
Williams used his redshirt season to “work on my technique and reads and footwork, and then just getting stronger and faster.”
All that work paid off when he made his collegiate debut in the season opener against Liberty and then started the next week against UTSA.
“It was surreal,” he said. “It just felt like I needed to be there and I just need to put in the work to be great.”
While the 0-5 start has been hard on him and the rest of the team, Williams said, “We just have to pick our heads up and go on to the next one and go 1-0 this week. . . . We just need to communicate more and work on the missed assignments and eliminate the big plays.”
Now in his second year as a sociology major, Williams can draw inspiration from his father, Alphonso “Alley Cat” Williams, who returned to Florida State 26 years after his playing days with the Seminoles to graduate in 2014 with a degree in sociology.
“I kind of ate him alive about it,” Deonte said. “When he would get on me about my grades, I would say, ‘You’ve got to go back and get that degree.’ He went back and got it, and I was proud of him for it.”
Baylor goes back on the road to face 14th-ranked Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.