Is Jaron Woodyard – a guy with a pretty respected reputation for speed, a guy whose Twitter handle is “Speedyy8” – faster than Mike Williams? “No,” Williams shot back when asked. What about Deontai Williams?
“Who’s that?” Mike quipped.
Mike knows. They’ve tangled already in fall camp. “He brings a physicality that some guys have and some guys don’t,” Mike says. And if you don’t know about the transfer safety from Jones County (Mississippi) Community College by now, you will soon.
Three guys in the defensive backfield are referred to as the GOAT: corner Dicaprio Bootle, safety Tre Neal and Deontai.
“He’s going to be a big part of our defense this year," Bootle says of the sophomore safety.
This is a guy who listens to Bob Marley before he steps on the football field to relax his mind. “If I’m relaxed on the football field and I feel confidence in what I’m doing, I can just go out there and play,” he says. This is a guy who, once on the field, plays with a game that would probably be the exact inverse of a Bob Marley record. He’s quick, aggressive and violent.
“Deontai’s been a mad dog in the secondary,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “He’s flying around, getting his hands on a lot of balls, contact guy. We saw in the scrimmage, he had a great hit in the scrimmage. He’s a fierce guy in the back end.”
That hit was on a 6-foot-4, 260-pound, tight end named Jack Stoll. A 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Williams de-cleated him.
“I gave him a shot, knocked him off his feet,” Williams said. “I put my whole 200 pounds on him.”
Because that’s how he plays. That’s what earned him GOAT status before even playing a game for Nebraska. Mike Williams had to block him in practice last week and neither backed down. Then, later, when Mike’s gloves were wet and he needed a towel to wipe them off, Deontai refused to share his.
“He’s competitive,” Mike says.
Fisher played NFL ball with Deontai's dad, Roosevelt Williams, a corner and third-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Fisher is quick to point out Deontai is not his father, he’s something else entirely.
“Deontai just plays with a chip on his shoulder, the way he plays. You watch his film coming from JUCO and high school, he was the same way,” Fisher says. “Right now, he’s battling for a starting position.”
With all the competition in the secondary, that’s a pretty significant development. Especially considering the Huskers return one starter from last year’s team in Aaron Williams and added another starter from this staff’s Central Florida defense last year in Neal. There’s also Antonio Reed, JoJo Domann and Marquel Dismuke fighting for playing time.
“Man,” Deontai says shaking his head. “You’ve got to come with it every day because you’re not safe. Your spot could be taken tomorrow so I have to come out here and compete every day.”
Which is fine. He’s used to that.
“When I was in high school, we had 17 D-I players and I could easily lose my spot,” he said. “I kept that edge from high school, so I’m used to it. It prepped me well.”
When Deontai was coming out of high school in 2015, six of his teammates were ranked inside the top-100 Florida prospects by the 247Sports Composite. Those guys pushed him day in and day out. He says Reed and Neal are pushing him now. Deontai can also be a little too hard on himself. One mess up and he tells himself he’s average, so he has to go out on the next rep and prove himself all over again. He’s a self-admitted sore loser, so he doesn’t lose.
“I’m not trying to be the best, I’m trying to be the greatest,” he said. “Get better and better every day, so whatever helps me get better and better … There’s no fear. I’ve played football for so many years now there’s no fear. Football is like a playground for me.
“It’s just like painting a picture out there.”
One picture that still needs a bit of work is the Huskers’ starting secondary. Deontai figures to factor heavily into that. Last he met with the media, he said Neal and Reed were leading Fisher’s production chart at safety but were each only a single point ahead of him.
“I had everybody for like a week and a half but now everybody’s caught up with me,” he said. “I got them.”
Everyone pays attention to the chart. It’s not one of those things where you just “block it out and focus on the field,” because everything done on the field directly impacts the chart and the chart directly impacts what they get to do on the field. The top guys will start. Fisher has made the question pretty easy. Deontai is making Fisher's answer complicated.
“Deontai’s doing a lot better from the spring. Making the calls is the biggest thing I see from him, getting the calls out of his mouth, getting the defense lined up. He’s flying around,” Fisher said. “He’s probably somewhere at the top in interceptions in the group, maybe neck and neck with someone. He’s trying to be a leader back in the secondary. He was kind of quiet at the beginning when he first got here. Now he’s doing a better job of talking.”
In this case, Fisher is talking about being a vocal leader for his defense. Deontai is growing into such a role. He has no issues, however, talking to the offense.
“You’ve got to let your presence be known,” he said of what he does after a big play. “And then tell them to throw it again. Throw it at me again and I’m going to do the same thing. You just want to put fear in the offense, you feel me? Put fear. Like, ‘Watch [No.] 41 right there.’”
Yeah. Watch No. 41 this fall.
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.