Maturing Leader: The Words of Juice Williams

When we watch great quarterbacks, all we see is the finished product, confident, poised and efficient. But quarterbacks endure growing pains and many setbacks as they mature into the position, no matter how much natural talent they possess. Isiah "Juice" Williams is blossoming into his full potential, so it is helpful to remember all he went through to get there.

"It's a roller coaster," reminds Williams. "Freshman year is tough. When things weren't going well, I struggled as a passer. Then everything got much better. But then I took the hit against Missouri and everything seemed to go back downhill. So you just have to be able to fight through it. After the Michigan game, I didn't look back."

Juice is demonstrating a relaxed confidence and maturity this fall that allows him to take advantage of his ample skills. He has endured the refiner's fire, and the dross has burned off. He is now emerging on the other side transformed from a nervous rookie to an accomplished veteran.

"It's just a matter of letting everything go, believing in Jesus, praying every night, just having confidence in yourself," explains the Chicago Vocational product. "And not being worried about what everybody else is saying.

"Some of the things they were saying could definitely put the kid down, so I just decided to go out there and have fun, and whatever happens, happens. That's when everything started to turn around for me.

"If you think negative, you play negative. If you think positive, you play positive."

Coach Zook wants him to be a leader for his teammates, and Juice is now comfortable and effective in that role. And leadership takes his mind off his own problems.

"Everything comes along with it. Having to keep a positive energy for the young guys definitely helps alot. So I'm just trying to be a leader for the guys this fall."

Williams has always been an outstanding running quarterback as his 233 pounds of solid muscle is difficult to tackle. But his big improvement lately has come from his passing. He has learned to use touch so his balls are easier to catch, and he has begun to trust his receivers and his own abilities.

"It's becoming more natural. This offseason, I've really thrown so much. Also, I've talked with a bunch of quarterbacks who've made it to the next level about the things they did to put touch on the ball and be more accurate. All they could tell me was continue to throw and do what you feel most comfortable with. That's what I've been doing, and I see improvement already.

"I'm seeing more touch on the ball, seeing some of those long throws just fall into the hands of the receivers without them losing stride. It's all about continuing to have confidence in yourself. When you overthink, that's when things go wrong.

"The trust wasn't always there when a receiver wouldn't go to the right spot, but they have to do a job just like me. I am able to trust those guys now to be at the spot they're supposed to be at, so now I can just throw to the spot."

Abundant confidence and a talented receiving corps are combining to make Juice Williams' job easier. He is really starting to have fun running the offense.

"It's always great to have weapons on your team. Whether it be Jeff Cumberland, Chris James, Chris Duvalt, we have a lot of weapons that can go out there and be successful for this team.

"It's like a video game. You see what the defense can do, and there's not anything they can do to stop you. No matter what you do, somebody's gonna be open. It's just a matter of me finding them now.

"As a freshman, I didn't see it like a video game but like Chinese Checkers or something. It was definitely hard out there. I didn't throw a whole lot in high school, so I had to do a lot of things to catch up to speed. At the same time, there was a lot of things going on here. So it was very difficult."

But no more. He is even looking forward to including the tight ends in his passing plans, something he has not been able to do in the past.

"I can see the tight ends being more involved this year. They've done a great job of proving themselves in the passing game and the running game as well. (Michael Hoomanawanui) has made tremendous strides this offseason, and we will utilize him much more."

Juice Williams plans on being the starter, but he is the biggest fans for his backups Eddie McGee and Jacob Charest. He has no doubt the quarterback position is in good hands at Illinois.

"Eddie is so much like me it's amazing. He wants the best for this team whether it's him in there or me, and I feel the same way. If I'm not producing and doing my job, I prefer he comes in. Whatever it takes to get the win. He's coming along. He's had a great spring and summer.

"Jacob is a great passer. There's some things he needs to work on as far as studying the playbook and learning the offense. But I see him having a pretty good college career as well."

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