M.Williams And Stewart – Improbable Starters

Mike Williams and Riccardo Stewart took very different paths to secure starting positions. Williams showed flashes as a true freshman in the 2000 season, but during the pre-season he looked to be buried in the depth chart behind Delvon Flowers and Tom Pace. Riccardo Stewart was a wide receiver during his redshirt year. His initiative to move to free safety, paid great dividends for him. Here what both have to say about their road to becoming starters in ASU's first game this season.

During spring ball, all the talk about the running game centered on the return of Delvon Flowers from a knee injury which sidelined him all of last year. Tom Pace was the returning team leading rusher, and he seemed to be the only viable threat to unseat Flowers as a starter. Both players suffered injuries during Camp Tontozona, and Sophomore Mike Williams took full advantage of the situation. "I'm very excited. When the coaches came up to me and told me that I was getting the starting running back job, I was real happy. I have been busting my butt all year for this. I'm trying to make the best out of it. All three running backs worked out very hard in the summer. I know that all three of us will play. The coaches just had to pick a starter, and they picked me."

Williams is a better player this year by his own admission: "To get a starting position on this team, I had to be better than last year. I got a lot stronger and faster with the off-season workouts. That will improve my game a lot this year." While the passing game is staple of Koetter's offense, the running back doesn't expect a reduce role this season. "Our running game will be very good too. We still will be a good power running team. With our offensive line and all the seniors on it, we should have a good running game and a passing game. We're gonna mix it up."

As far as his thoughts on the upcoming game against San Diego State he says: "It seems like it took forever for our first game to come. I'm just happy it's here right now. They're a very good team. We can't take any team lightly, and that's how we have to approach each and every game this year. I'm pretty excited for this game, especially because I'm starting. We just have to take it one game at a time, and we'll be fine"

When fans learned of the 4-2-5 defensive scheme (which includes three safeties) that the Sun Devils would employ this year, no one thought that redshirt freshmen Riccardo Stewart would be anointed as the teams free safety. After all, he was listed as a wide receiver and redshirted his freshmen year. But for Stewart it the position change was means to seeing playing time: "I really didn't see my future as a wide receiver with the old coaching staff. I just didn't like them. I didn't have an insight from them in how I would help the team. I played free safety in high school. This position is more of an instinct position, and I thought that would be a good fit for me with my size and skills. I asked the new coaches if I could try it, and they agreed to give me a shot. They gave me a chance, and that's all I was hoping for. The ball just started rolling from there." The change at the coaching guard at ASU was a blessing for the redshirt freshman: "Having a new coaching staff most definitely helped me. Now I have a fresh start with a new position and a new coaching staff, and the redshirt season is over. I'm excited to just get on the field and see what I can do."

When asked about his role on defense, the ex-wide receiver replies: "One of my assignments on defense, is to make calls on the field. The safeties move around a lot with the linebackers. We just fly to the ball, and my position plays the run and the pass equally. I like this scheme, because we're just all over the place." Did Stewart have any doubts of making a successful transition from offense to defense? "Nah, I just took it day by day. There was a lot to learn, but the coaches, the players, everybody was on my side. They correct my mistakes if they need to, and give me props too. I just know I needed a change, and I was committed to making it at safety."

None of the players are more excited for Saturday than Stewart, who is highly anxious to display his talents for the first time in an official game "I'm excited for San Diego State. I close my eyes and I see Football (smile). I can't even explain it. I haven't played in two years or so, and my family is coming down to watch me. I spent the whole year watching this team play, and now I get to be part of it too. I'm gonna be a little jittery and nervous, and I know that with me and the other redshirt freshmen corners (Oliver and Emmanuel) they (SDSU) will bring it to us. I know we have a great defense and a great team overall. I think everybody will come together on the field "

New coaching staffs are famous for resurrecting players that would not have given a chance otherwise. While Williams successfully showcased his skills last year, his rise to the #1 running back is still remarkable since he beat out two proven seniors. Stewart's bold initiative, along with a new defensive alignment earned him a surprising starting spot at free safety. If his play during the season will match his desire and work ethic, he could easily be the best newcomer on the team. Williams and Stewart weren't handed their starting jobs, but rather earned it through dedication and perseverance. And when little is expected from you who doesn't love to prove others wrong…?

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