Deontai Williams says he has unfinished business.
— Deontai O. Williams (@IWILLSTILLRISE) January 13, 2021
The senior safety announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that he will be returning to Nebraska for another year after the NCAA granted seniors a free pass on the 2020 season by freezing eligibility. Williams was the second senior to publicly announce he’s taking that opportunity, joining outside linebacker JoJo Domann in returning.
But Williams and Domann are not the only ones. After Williams’ announcement, Marquel Dismuke shared that he is also coming back.
— King Quel (@HussleInSilence) January 13, 2021
The duo’s return will certainly provide a boost for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher; Nebraska is getting back three of its four starters in the secondary from last season. Cam Taylor-Britt, a junior corner, also opted to put the NFL on the back-burner for another year and return to Nebraska.
The defense by and large feels like a unit seeking respect. Williams and Dismuke both represent that equally well.
Williams finished 2020 with a career-high 51 tackles, and he also set career-highs with four tackles for loss and one sack while starting seven of Nebraska’s eight games. The only start he missed was against Northwestern, when he had to sit the first half while serving a targeting suspension carried over from Nebraska’s opener against Ohio State. His lone sack came in a 30-23 win over Penn State when Williams forced the football free from quarterback Sean Clifford, recovered it himself, and returned it for a score. He also broke up four passes on the year. For his career, Williams has 76 tackles in 21 games, including eight pass breakups, and two picks.
After playing in a mostly reserve role his first year on campus in 2019, Williams was thought to have the potential to become Nebraska’s best defender heading into the 2019 season, but an injury suffered in the first half of Nebraska’s first game put him on the shelf for the entire season.
“I still have a lot to prove, just to the defense, to the coaches, and to anyone else if I want to go to the next level,” Williams said before the 2020 season. “This year has just been to improve and to show what I’ve got.”
Williams, a transfer from Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College prior to the 2018 season, will be one of the oldest players in the room when the new year rolls around. It’ll be his sixth. He’ll join Taylor-Britt as not just two of the most respected voices in the secondary but on the entire defense.
“He’s a soft-spoken, grown man,” Fisher said of Williams. “He’s not going to be moved off of emotions. He’s going to let his opportunities present (themselves) and he’s going to go out and play football. Love the kid, man. He’s great in the room. He has the culture. He brings the younger guys along and holds the older guys accountable, holds himself accountable.
“It’s a pleasure to coach him.”
The same can be said for Dismuke.
The California native was an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection in 2020 after starting in eight games as a senior. He will be able to expand on his 20 consecutive starts at safety in 2021. He currently ranks fourth on the Huskers’ roster with 47 tackles and set career highs with 4.0 tackles for loss and four pass breakups.
Dismuke, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, is one of the few remaining recruits from former coach Mike Riley and his staff. “It’s not like I was eager to play, but I was eager to get better,”he said in December when reflecting on his career. “Once I got better, I saw I could play. So all that plays a factor. It’s not your time when you think it’s your time. But it’s going to be your time eventually.”
That leaves just defensive end Ben Stille and inside linebacker Will Honas as the two remaining scholarship seniors yet to announce their plans for next season. Should both return, Nebraska’s defense would bring back nine of its top 10 tacklers from a season ago.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.