Growing Linebacker Ready To Begin Season

Auburn, Ala.--When he reported for two-a-days last August, <b>Travis Williams</b> looked to be a long way from being able to contribute to the Auburn football team as a linebacker.

Never mind that the South Carolina native had tackled everything in sight as a senior on the way to being named the Most Valuable Player of the South Carolina North-South All-Star Game. At only 188 pounds he was too small to play linebacker in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference.

The school record holder at Spring Valley High with 297 tackles in his career, including 160 as a senior, Williams immediately showed his coaches and teammates last fall that he could get to the ball carrier as one of the top players on the scout team. However, it was this spring when he really blossomed.

Up to 202 pounds, Williams was one of the top performers in the new defensive system that coordinator Gene Chizik installed in March and April. Now one month from the beginning of two-a-days, Williams is even bigger and stronger at 212 pounds and looks ready to contribute for the Tigers.

The redshirt freshman says the team is hungry to get the 2002 season started. "We're ready," Williams tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "All this running we're doing and the lifting, we should be ready. I can't wait though. There is going to be a lot of competing out there."

Williams watches the quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs throw and catch during one their summer afternoon on-campus workouts.

The competition has already started for Williams and the Tigers this summer as strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall and his staff have put the players through the paces in an ambitious summer workout program. Williams says that he was prepared to work hard this summer so it hasn't been that tough for him.

"It's been very intense," he notes. "We were working out five days a week, but now we're doing four days a week since we're in July. We're trying to slack down right before two-a-days. But the running and lifting has been very intense...with coach Yox we already knew what to expect with the workouts so it didn't catch me off guard."

Still in the process of learning a new defense installed by new coordinator Gene Chizik in spring practice, Williams notes that this system is much easier to learn and that should be an advantage for the Tigers heading into two-a-days.

"I've picked up a lot," he says with a smile. "But it's basic. It's not like last year. The coaches kind of broke it down so everybody knows what they are doing instead of having just tunnel vision out there when you're playing. I like it like that."

Something that has also helped Williams and the other young linebackers is the emergence of leaders senior Mark Brown and junior Dontarrious Thomas. The veterans of the linebacking unit, both have taken the group under their wings this summer when the coaches can't interact with the players on a consistent basis because of NCAA rules.

"Watching film by yourself with all players and no coaches you kind of get that bond," Williams says. "All the linebackers are together so that's helped us out a lot. The older guys are showing us the ropes at eight in the morning watching film with them. We joke around and have a good time. They are like big brothers looking out for us."

Travis Williams is shown as a player at Spring Valley High School.

With less than a month until two-a-days begin, Williams says that this team is working harder than ever to get ready for the first game on Sept. 2 in Los Angeles vs. the Southern California Trojans. Facing a team that has offensive weapons at every position, he smiles and says this is the ultimate test for a defense looking to gain some respect.

"We're not playing a small school, we're playing USC so we better be prepared," Williams says. "They're a Top 25 team, Monday night, strength against strength, it's going to be fun. It should be something to see."

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