East Carolina senior nose tackle Terry Williams' journey has been a bumpy one, to say the least. He's dealt with suspensions and injuries since starting out at ECU in 2011—most recently being a leg injury that sidelined him for the first two of games this season.
Williams returned to the field for the Pirates in their 28-21 victory over No. 17 Virginia Tech. He got off to a great start as he finished with five tackles (one solo) and combined on a 13-yard sack with Jonathon White.
The impact has always been there, though. Even while Williams was injured, his presence was felt on defense. He worked with the newer faces on defense to do what he could to improve the unit. He couldn't suit up with his teammates, but he could pass on some of his knowledge and make a difference that way.
“He takes them under his wing,” said defensive line coach Marc Yellock. “He shows them the ins and outs. I've been working with him since he was a red-shirt freshman. Even when he was hurt he was doing that.”
Leading his younger teammates has become just as big a part of Williams' job as what he's tasked with when he takes the field. Since his ECU career is coming to a close, he's taking what he's learned these past few years and teaching it to the younger folks.
“Just stay focused,” said Williams of what he's hoping to pass onto his teammates. “Stay on task...Coach Ruff, from when I started here as a freshman to now, he's changed the program. I just keep trying to feed it to the young kids because they weren't here at the time.”
That's one of the biggest impacts he's made off the field. As one of the team's elders, Williams has been guided by fifth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill's principles for some time now.
“Terry exhibits what we've talked about as far as commitment to the team and commitment to the vision,” said McNeill. “He's been here since day one...We all have a story on this team. That's premeditated. When they face adversity, they won't flinch. Terry is one that didn't flinch.”
Williams' experiences have led to plenty of personal growth, too. The man that will set up on the front lines of the defense Saturday versus North Carolina isn't the same person that joined the squad in 2011.
“Terry has really grown up as an individual and as a young man,” said Yellock. “I got him as a rough pup early and trying to teach him how to play the position. From being a linebacker in high school to all of a sudden being a nose guard at the collegiate level, he's done a good job of basically learning and growing as a person.”
The defensive line played well through ECU's first two games against North Carolina Central and South Carolina, but it looks like a completely different unit with Williams involved.
Cornerback Josh Hawkins, who had two interceptions against the Hokies, already noticed the difference Williams makes on the field. Although he's back in the secondary, it's a team game and he notices the work done up front.
“It all starts upfront with the defensive line,” said Hawkins, who was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Week. “Then in the middle with the linebackers. Then the secondary holds down the back end. Putting that pressure on the quarterback made him make quick decisions. Maybe he probably didn't make smart decisions, so those interceptions ended up happening.”
The different challenges Williams has faced on and off the field have played an important role in developing him into the vital player and leader he has become.
“It's not about how many times you fall down,” said Yellock. “It's how many times you get up. He's done that and really been a good leader for us on the defensive line and on the defense, also.”