When a superstar high school basketball player arrives on campus such as Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant, he is often referred to as being a “one and done.” In football we refer to such recruits as “three and outs.” Before he even finished his final season at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, coaches and scouts alike were already using this term to describe Derrick Williams.
When Williams decided to enroll early at Penn State, he hit the recruiting trail himself, calling up other big time recruits and encouraging them to join him at PSU. That class eventually saw the likes of Sean Lee, Justin King, Jerome Hayes, Lydell Sargeant, Anthony Scirrotto and Daryl Clark.
After a dismal five-year stretch which saw Penn State sink to the bottom of the Big Ten, there was an excitement in the air about the coveted No. 1 overall recruit in the nation and his promise to turn the Nittany Lions back into a championship contender.
Four years later Derrick Williams is not lighting up NFL defenses as a rookie, instead he is finishing his senior campaign as a Nittany Lion. Although Williams has been a steady performer on offense and special teams ever since he was a freshman, he has never become the game breaking performer we all hoped he would become.
Indeed Williams has made some huge plays in games going back to his freshman season including the Northwestern touchdown that sparked the 11-1 Orange Bowl season and returned Penn State back to national prominence. Unfortunately, Williams’ season was cut short due to a broken arm against Michigan.
During the offseason leading into his sophomore year, the hype continued to build as Nittany Lion fans everywhere anticipated his return along with the highly touted Anthony Morelli taking the reigns at quarterback. However, after gaining twenty pounds it seemed Williams had lost some of the elusiveness that he displayed as a freshman.
As the past few seasons went along, Williams changed his game. The coaches stopped shuffling him around so much and finally gave up on the quarterback experiment. This allowed Williams to concentrate on his most effective talents as a pass receiver and kick return specialist.
This has also helped to define Penn State’s offensive identity this season as well, something I felt was in question going into this season. With two different style quarterbacks and playmakers at every position it is sometimes difficult to keep in mind that there is only one ball.
I feel the Penn State coaching staff has done a good job distributing the ball this entire season. In previous years it seems they tried to force the ball to Williams, now things look much more natural for him.
Looking back at Williams’ career stats, he has caught 145 passes for 1,553 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has also run the ball 94 times for 453 yards, a 4.8 average and returned five kicks for touchdowns, a Penn State record.
While these numbers do not seem like anything extraordinary for a four year starter, we have to keep a few things in mind. First, Williams has made big plays in big games, Northwestern, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Illinois and Wisconsin, just to name a few.
He has also had to share the ball with two other very talented receivers in what has been a run-first offense. If we tally up what Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood have done and add it in with Williams, the three have been remarkably consistent and reliable for four seasons.
Finally, Williams has made an impact on the Penn State football program that cannot be measured by statistics. Not only did he boost the program from a recruiting standpoint, but he has been nothing but a first class player since he arrived in State College.
Unlike other “saviors” who have come through such as Anthony Morelli and Austin Scott, Williams has been able to handle the pressures of playing a big time college program and has continued to instill a focused, hard working attitude in his teammates. This year his teammates repaid him for his leadership by voting him a co-captain.
Another overlooked characteristic of Williams is the fact that over the course of all the off the field incidents that have taken place at within the program, you cannot find Derrick Williams anywhere near any of it.
The only time his name is even mentioned with these instances is when he is found defending his teammates and assuring outsiders that Penn State still stands for dignity and class.
Although Williams’ career played out differently than anyone might have predicted, he will leave behind a legacy that will not be forgotten. He has stood for everything that Penn State football is all about. Soon Williams will pass along the torch to a new generation of Penn State players.
Williams joins the likes of Paul Posluszny and Zack Mills as guys in recent years who in my mind were role models for young players, representing all that is good in sports. When I think of these three names I think of hard working, competitive players who would do anything for their teammates and their school.
D-Will also made that promise of a national championship when he showed up as an 18 -year-old freshmen and finally his dream is coming closer and closer to a reality.