Nebraska Cornhusker safety Deontai Williams speaks to the press after practice
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s ‘Grandpa’ Safeties and a Bond Built in the Backend of Nebraska’s Secondary

April 07, 2021

During practice Wednesday, speakers stationed around the Hawks Championship Center blasted a song that was released in 1988. For most of the team, they’d be aware of it if they were active TikTok users. For Deontai Williams, he lived it. 

OK, he’s not that old, but this October will be his 25th birthday. Williams played two seasons at Jones County CC before coming to Nebraska, and he’s entering his fourth year here. Williams calls himself the grandpa of the defensive back room.

His partner at safety, Marquel Dismuke, turned 23 this past March. Between the two, they have 61 games of D1 experience playing defensive back. They’re among the oldest safeties in the league. 

Head coach Scott Frost often talks of a need to get old and stay old, and with both returning after serving as season-long starters a year ago, consider it mission accomplished at safety. 

They’re grown men at this point. When pitching them to return, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher treated them as such. Williams has a son, Dismuke a daughter, both of whom have yet to turn two years old. 

“When his kid or my kid comes out here, we’re all together,” Dismuke said. “We eat together. We do everything together.”

That relationship is one of several key storylines for Nebraska this spring. 

The defense expects to continue improving. The secondary has its mind set on being a top-10 unit nationally. “That’s got to be takeaways, that’s got to be not getting beat deep, that’s got to be making tackles,” Williams said. 

Defenses all around the league should be strong this upcoming season; 11 of the Big Ten’s 14 programs return at least seven defensive starters from the 2020 season. Nebraska is in the majority there.

But perhaps Dismuke and Williams’ collective experience provides a uniqueness to the back end of this defense.

“Sometimes he knows what I’m thinking and he doesn’t have to say nothing, it’s just like ‘Boom,’” Williams said. “It’s like a rhythm.”

They’ve both graduated. They’ve both sat and watched from the bench. They’re both fathers. They’ve both developed into all-conference-level players. There’s a bond that has grown throughout all of it.

“We’re on the same level now,” added Dismuke. “We’re just going out and trying to better each other each and every day. If I’m going slow, he’ll get up on me. If he don’t know or I don’t know a question, we’ll both answer it.”

They hold each other accountable not just to themselves and to Fisher, but to the young guys as well. Ever caught slipping? Hell nah. Williams sticks around young safeties Myles Farmer and Noa Pola-Gates. Dismuke, at one time a guy who seemed more lead by example than not, will get onto the young guys if they aren’t measuring up.

“We’re still trying to put the culture into them, and when I say culture I mean have the bar so high that we won’t accept anything less than that,” he said, a little later following up with something that makes your eyebrows raise up. “I love all of them. They all ask for help, whatever questions they need (answered). They give me their all when I ask for it, and when they’re not giving me their all, I get on them.”

They’re coaches on the field. If there’s a pair of DBs in Fisher’s room that command respect, it’s this pair. 

Dismuke values special teams. It’s how he made it onto the field when the line in front of him at safety was deep. Williams knows he has guys looking up to him in the film room. “They see me here every day,” he said. “It’s not just going to come to you, you’ve got to work hard at it.” They seem excellent culture-keepers, to borrow a phrase from Frost.

Both safeties wanted to play a bowl game last season, but Nebraska didn’t have a consensus in the locker room, so it passed on the postseason. “We gotta change that,” Williams said. “That’s something we got to change here–deep inside here. It’s a culture thing. We gotta change it.” 

That episode played a role in their determination to return for one more year. 

“We want to show the country that we are better than everybody else thinks we are,” Williams said.

Added Dismuke: “When we came back it was about our potential as a team.” 

The play Nebraska gets from its two safeties will go a long way toward determining whether that potential is met. 

Said Williams, “We know we can do more.” No more questions.

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