Williams Cashes In

CHAMPAIGN – Ashante Williams couldn't stop repeating one of the Illinois defensive staff's favorite phrases.

Down and distance. Down and distance. Down and distance.

"I looked to my right, and I saw it was third and short," the senior defensive back said.

It was early in the fourth quarter. The Illini were holding a 17-7 lead, but Western Michigan was driving the field with momentum on its side. The Illinois offense was struggling and Williams and the defense needed more than a stand.

The team needed a statement.

"I knew their key plays on third short were either all hitches or all slants," Williams said. "That's from preparation in film study all week."

With that in mind, Williams set forth to bait Broncos quarterback Alex Carder into making a mistake. He pretended to be in zone coverage, lagging back a few yards beyond where the play call dictated he should be lined up.

"Right before the snap I jumped in, kind of scooted down and started catching the receiver in man (coverage)," he said. "As soon as he threw it I broke on it."

About seven seconds and 60 yards later, Williams was standing in the end zone after intercepting the first pass of his career.

"I was exhausted, but it felt good though," he said.

Williams' crafty pick and score pushed the Illinois lead to 17 points and crushed the forward progress the Broncos had created in the first 20 minutes of the second half.

With a big play needed to secure the win, coach Tim Beckman wasn't shocked when Williams came through.

"He has been providing leadership for the last eight months that I've been here," Beckman said. "It did not surprise me when he made that play. He was one of our team captains going out before the game.

"Well deserved and did not surprise me that he made that play and scored the touchdown."

Williams, who also led the team with nine total tackles, acknowledges his first four years at Illinios weren't easy. He always seemed to be on the verge of breaking out and becoming a star, but for one reason or another his potential went unfulfilled.

That's why he was so excited when Beckman was named head coach following last season. That meant, at least in Williams' mind, a fresh start.

"These last eight months coach Beckman coming here, he's been like a father to me," Williams said. "I love coach Beckman. He's given me the opportunity to come out here and redeem myself."

With his last year and final chance approaching, Williams took every rep and every workout serious. He ran until he threw up to prove to the coaches he was invested. He didn't loaf because he knew younger players would be watching and following his lead. He helped himself by helping the team, and in turn, helped the team by helping himself.

"He's just been a great worker for us," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "It's really been a long time coming. I've watched him grow. Every year they thought it would be his breakout year, but he understands this is his last go round and he worked as such. I can't be more prouder of a kid because he's worked so hard at it."

Saturday morning, as kickoff approached, Williams reflected on his what he's been through and thought about what could be in store this season.

And he started crying. He couldn't help himself.

"It was just having this opportunity to come out here and showcase this state and show coach Beckman and what this staff has done for the last eight months.

"Coach Beckman gave me an opportunity to be a captain and lead this team to victory ,and I thank him a lot."

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