Highly recruited linebacker Edward Williams was weighed down by too many factors to play fast after he signed with Tulane in 2013.
He did not even want to be on campus, choosing the Green Wave out of local Warren Easton High only because his mom refused to sign his national letter of intent to Texas Tech, insisting he stay in New Orleans. He then became a father for the first time the same day of the Green Wave’s opener against Jackson State, when his son, E’lan Jahad, was born.
Nearly two seasons later, he finally feels ready to fulfill the immense expectations that accompanied his arrival.
“I’ve been trusting my eyes,” he said. “And everything I see, I just hit it.”
In particular, the hits kept coming against Houston on Nov. 8, when Williams made a team-high 12 tackles, twice as many as in any other game of his career. Although he had started at middle linebacker four times before then, his tentativeness left everyone wanting more.
“This kid reminds me of what we did with D.J. Williams (at the University of Miami),” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “D.J. didn’t hit anybody for two years. All of a sudden, he’s a first-round pick (with Denver in 2004). I saw the other night that he was playing for the Bears. (Edward Williams) reminds me of that type of athlete. He’s big, he’s physical and he can run.”
Williams (6-foot-3, 222 pounds) always has looked like a big-time athlete. Now he is starting to play like one.
“He is an outside linebacker learning to play in the middle,” Johnson said. “There are things he didn’t see. You have to see the tackle box. But the more he plays, he continues to get better.”
It just took a little longer than all parties expected. Last year, Williams played in seven games but did not register a tackle after September, battling a series of injuries that limited his practice time.
The lingering effect of a broken collarbone at Warren Easton affected him at the beginning of the fall. He hurt his ankle, requiring him to wear a boot for a while, and he messed up his AC joint, too.
Those injuries stunted his development. When linebackers coach Jon Sumrall began working with him this spring after coaching the defensive lineman a year ago, he felt like he had inherited a freshman.
Sumrall noticed improvement after Tulane lost to Rutgers in late September. Previously sharing time at middle linebacker with sophomore Eric Thomas and true freshman RaeJuan Marbley, Williams has become the clear No. 1 in the last four games.
Early in the first quarter against Houston, Williams tracked down elusive quarterback Greg Ward and made a nice open-field tackle, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
“If you get confidence, you play faster, and the only way you get confidence is by making plays,” Sumrall said. “He made some plays and started believing he could do it. That’s allowed him to play faster and trust what he’s seeing.”
Sumrall continues to prod Williams constantly. He pointed out Williams missed two interceptions against Houston because he did not react quickly enough. He has shredded Williams in practice a couple of times for mistakes, but Williams has learned to take that criticism as motivation.
He wasn’t there last year. Not even close.
“My head was spinning,” he said. “I was pretty upset. I wanted to go to a big school, but my mama had a bigger picture in mind — education. She saw a future for my son, and now I see exactly what she was saying.”
The learning curve at middle linebacker has been steep for Williams. Despite his big day at Houston, his overall stats are pretty modest: 34 tackles, one interception and one pass breakup.
Next year, though, should be a different story. With starting weakside linebacker Nico Marley as his mentor, he has gotten more comfortable and more committed each week.
Sunday morning, Sumrall walked into the defensive staff room and found Williams watching video by himself, long before the mandatory afternoon team meeting.
“He’s grown up,” safety Darion Monroe said. “He’s stopped making everything somebody else’s fault. It’s his fault now. He’ll be so much better next year. He might be all-conference.”
That’s all part of Williams’ plan. He now knows he can’t cut any corners to get there.
“If I keep doing what I’m doing, I’m all-conference easy (in 2015),” he said. “But I have to keep my head straight and keep focused.”