Ashante Williams Making Up For Lost Time

The Fighting Illini football team struggled with both their defensive backfield and special teams last fall. Inexperience and a lack of depth contributed to the problems. Ashante Williams was expected to help, but a setback forced him to redshirt. He is back now, ready to make an impact.

Ashante Williams graduated early from Ohio's Mayfield High School so he could enroll at Illinois for second semester and prepare to see playing time for the Illini football team in the fall of 2008. He had a productive spring, but an unexpected problem delayed his debut.

"I had some off-the-field issues, so I had to sit the year out."

While many athletes take a light course load while they acclimate to the rigors of college academics, Ashante took the opposite route with unsatisfactory results.

"I tried to come in and thought I could handle it. I discovered it was too much, especially with football."

He was ineligible to play in games last fall, but he worked out with the team.

"I did play with the scout team. I helped prepare the team every week."

Back in good graces academically, Williams is trying to catch up on what he missed on the field.

"Now, I'm just trying to get back into the groove of being an active football player again. Everything is coming slow, but it's coming. It's a work in progress."

Taking a redshirt gives him all four years of eligibility, and the lessons he learned his first year will help him the rest of his career.

"Last year was a big step on me maturing as a man. This year, I'm just doing everything possible to help the team out. Me coming in early gave me a head start on learning the defense, and I know what to expect as a player. I'm just looking for some great things this year."

This is his second spring, so Ashante is more comfortable with the process. But he was moved from cornerback to safety, which requires a learning curve of its own.

"I know what to expect, but this year is a little tougher because I'm learning a new position. Right now, I'm just taking it slow and trying to learn the position.

"I'm running both at free and strong safety. It doesn't matter to me where I play, I just want to be on the field and help the team. Do whatever possible to help the team win."

Williams has received some help in his quest to learn his new position.

"Donsay Hardeman kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of the safety position. I try to listen to the coaches and do some things on my own."

The 5'-10", 195 pounder was a running back in high school. He has speed, and he can flip his hips to change directions rapidly. He sees these traits as assets for his position.

"I like to play fast, tackle people and make plays. I like to be around the ball."

Of course, he still has plenty of room for improvement.

"Narrowing down the technical things on the defense. Learning all my assignments. Not just learning my position but learning everybody else's assignments so I'll know what to do and can make in-game adjustments."

Special teams coach Mike Woodford is undoubtedly pleased to have Ashante to work on the various units.

"I'm practicing with the punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return teams. Basically all of them except field goal."

Ashante Williams is undecided whether he will major in Communications or Recreation, Sports, Tourism.

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