This past spring defensive coordinator Gene Chizik and company were pleased when outside backer Dontarrious Thomas moved to the middle and looked like a natural. With Karlos Dansby back at one outside spot, that left a vacancy at weakside linebacker with several candidates in line to earn the starting job.
Outshining everyone in sight who challenged him for the job, sophomore Travis Williams earned the nod from the coaching staff following an outstanding spring. The 6-1, 215-pounder from South Carolina was named the team's Most Improved Linebacker after he completely dominated several scrimmages, including one when he intercepted two passes and had numerous tackles. Going into the fall, Williams tells Inside The Auburn Tigers that having veterans all around him will be a big help when he takes the field for the first time as a starter.
"They are both projected as All-Americans," Williams says of Thomas and Dansby. "It feels good to know that I can look to my right or my left and see one of them. Then you have Reggie (Reggie Torbor), Demarco (Demarco McNeil) and everyone down there. I'm surrounded by a lot of veterans so I'll be alright."
Travis Williams is shown in action during the A-Day Game. The 6-1, 211-pounder had a very strong performance ins spring training.
Helping to ease the transition from backup last season, when he had just nine total tackles, to the starting rotation, Williams has used his summer to continue to learn the nuances of the defense and become more comfortable with his teammates. That has been the pattern all summer with almost the entire team out on the practice fields several afternoons a week for voluntary workouts as they try to get back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2000.
"It's a good sign of the dedication as a team, both defensively and offensively," Williams says. "In the past few years it was just the skill players out in the summer, but now it's the defensive line, the offensive line, everybody is out there volunteering trying to get better.
"The enthusiasm of the team, we're not surprised by that," Williams adds. "It's in us all to work hard because if we want to achieve the goals we have set we have to be here as a team. As far as the magazines and newspapers, we know that we have talent. We're getting recognition, but we're still trying to earn respect. We try not to read them too much, we're just taking things one day at a time."
With almost every preseason publication picking the Tigers as the favorites to win the overall SEC title and play in a BCS Bowl game, Williams says the team doesn't feel any added pressure than what they put on themselves. Playing with a solid group of leaders on both sides of the ball, he says this team should have no problems keeping focused this season.
"The last couple of years we have shared the West or gone to the championship game three years ago and not won it," Williams says. "We haven't really achieved the goals that we have set. We're going to take it one game at a time, one team at a time, to set the goals we're shooting for."
Setting school record after school record for tackles at Spring Valley High and earning the MVP of the South Carolina-North Carolina All-Star Game, Williams came to Auburn ready to play immediately, but redshirted in 2001 and has fought to earn playing time in college. Now ready to step into the spotlight, he says he's looked forward to this moment his entire life and is planning to make the most of it.
"It's been a little different, but at the same time I still haven't done anything, I haven't started in front of 85,000," Williams notes. "I'm just trying to work hard. The first thing I want to do is earn the respect of my teammates and then everything else will take care of itself.
"That first game is going to mean a lot as far as getting the butterflies out," Williams adds. "I'm just going to go play football. The sure way to win, Coach Whitt (Joe Whitt) always says, is to be physical so I'm just going to run around and be physical and do my assignments."