Ashante Williams played running back at Mayfield, Ohio. He was moved to cornerback at Illinois and played there his redshirt season. He played safety and nickel back last year but was moved to outside linebacker in the spring. As he explains, the new role combines aspects of his previous assignments.
"It's fun, I like it. I told you last year I like to hit people, so it's more like a converted linebacker type nickel. I play the strongside linebacker and get to set the formations. Basically, I get to take on a lot of blocks and get hits in the box."
His defensive back skills are also needed.
"It helps a lot. You have to run down the seam, you have to drive out to the flats. You have to be athletic and mobile. You have to be good turning your hips as well."
Williams needed time to catch on to all the nuances of the college game. He feels he is much better prepared now than earlier in his career. The experience of being moved around helps.
"It does. Whatever the team needs. When I first switched positions my freshman year it was a little bit harder to acclimate to it. But now I know what they expect me to look for."
The more practice and game experience he has, the better he plays.
"The game has slowed down a lot. The more you play, the more the game slows down. My dad always told me, just go out there and have fun, and the games will come to you. As you mature, you mature mentally. You become smarter about the game."
Williams is beginning to play aggressively and with abandon. It's amazing what a little confidence can do.
"It's just confidence level. The more you've been out here playing, and the more you've been around these guys, the more they depend on you and the more you don't want to let them down. You've got to go out and play aggressive and give your full effort."
The 5'-10", 205 pounder set ultimate goals throughout Camp Rantoul, and that continues to this day.
"Yeah, I think so. A few days I went without any MA's (missed assignments). It's my goal every day to go out and not have any missed assignments. Basically do everything I could to help the team improve. If I am in position to make plays, I can help the team."
Williams shares time with Nathan Bussey during games and pushes him every day for the starting role.
"We both push each other. It's gonna be fun, it's gonna be exciting."
Backing Bussey and Williams is freshman Earnest Thomas. The youngster may challenge for playing time down the road. Williams is helping him learn the ropes.
"He's coming along for a freshman. I took him under my wing and tried to help him out a little bit. I basically told him don't be down because it's a long season. Whatever happens, you've got to be ready. And if he ever needs something I'm around. I give him little tips on how to improve his game."
The new defense brought in by Vic Koenning fits Williams well. He has great respect for Koenning.
"I love him. He's an exciting coach. He's a player's coach, he loves the players. He's out here giving his all every day. We've got to make sure we give everything every day because he's giving everything he has. You can tell he wants to win. All the coaches, you can tell they want to win. I like their attitude.
"Coach (Ron) West is our position coach. When you come off the field, he'll give you little tips here and there. He'll yell at you. It's Coach Koenning's defense, so he's the one that's most vocal. He'll tell Coach West something, and Coach West will relay the message."
Williams is an intelligent young man capable of expressing the feelings of the whole team. His thoughts on last year and the new season reflect that.
"The team has a lot of confidence, way better than it was last year. We feel like we've improved the camaraderie of the team. We have the mentality where you can count on the next person if you need something because he's gonna do the job. If you ask me, we missed some of that last year.
"There's a lot of people on this team that know this is their last chance, and we want to give our seniors a good farewell present. Everybody wants to do their part so this team can be successful. We have a lot doubters, so we want to prove a lot of people wrong."