"I'll take leadership either way, even if those guys were there, you know," Williams said.
A 6-1, 220-pound native of Demascus, Ga., Williams seriously considered going pro this offseason. He had a breakout season in 2011, leading the team with 72 tackles and also snagging four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
While Rambo and linebacker Jarvis Jones were the big names thrown around concerning the draft, Williams' opportunity to leave was just as real.
"It was a big concern of mine because you never know when the opportunity is going to come around again or what could happen later on," he said. "You could get hurt, so I had to talk it over with my family and make the best choice."
The right choice for Williams was to return for his final season. He has the size of a pro safety and last year showed his progression as a player. But last season was really his first year as a full-time member of the secondary after bouncing in and out of the lineup in 2010 as a sophomore.
"You could kind of see it a little bit (Williams' emergence) last spring because he became more familiar with the package," defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said. "He's actually one of our smarter guys now. He knows all the ins and outs and the things that create some problems."
One "thing" Williams offered last season was versatility. When the defense was short on linebackers against Coastal Carolina, Williams switched to the position for the week. After showing he could be useful near the line of scrimmage, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham began mixing up looks for Williams. Mostly known as a hard-hitter, the variation in Williams' duties began to change his reputation.
"I do everything," he said. "I come down in the box in the base, so I'm just a complete player out there."
Out of necessity, Williams has become more of talker, too. For most of his career, he's been a quiet figure on the field and soft-spoken around the media. Due to the suspensions, Williams will most likely team with Corey Moore at safety to begin the season. Moore customarily plays the same position – free safety – as Williams, so there has been a learning curve.
"He's a good communicator now," Lakatos said of Williams. "He helps the guys around him, and he's pretty knowledgeable. We're very pleased with Shawn's progress."
While his contributions to the team are obvious, Williams has an individual goal he'd like to achieve.
"I mean like as far as my future, I want to leave that legacy," he said. "I want to have my name and picture up in the locker room as an All-American. I want to be one of those guys."
Williams witnessed Rambo achieve All-American status while playing alongside him last season. To have two safeties playing together at that level of performance and recognition, Williams says, would mean a lot.
Due to his progression and range of tools, Lakatos said, there's a good chance Williams can reach his goal.
"He's a physical player, sure," Lakatos said. "I think that's part of his deal. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. That's what you want. You want physical, hard-nosed guys that are athletes. That's what he gives you. He can do some things in deep zone. He can do some things in man coverage. When it comes down to it he can stick his face in there and knock some people backwards. You've got to have that. You like to have that in your secondary."