When Brandon Williams' prep career at St. Louis' Hazelwood East High School was wrapping up, the star athlete had a couple important choices to make.
He basically had his pick of Big Ten schools to attend, but some wanted him as a defensive back, some as a receiver.
Williams starred as a triple threat at East, intercepting six passes as a cornerback and catching 97 passes for 2,157 yards. He also had 1,210 career punt return yards.
In addition, the slight Williams, generously listed at 5-11, 170 pounds, has a build that many would assume is best suited for corner. Williams, though, saw the debate in a different light.
"I enjoyed playing defense but I thought I would make a better receiver. So, that is what I stuck with, but a lot of teams recruited me as a DB and I didn't really want to play DB in college," Williams said. "I had aspirations to go into the NFL and DBs don't really last that long unless you are great. And there are a lot of receivers all over."
When most high school seniors are fretting about a college decision, Williams was plotting a course for the NFL.
"You've got to plan, you've got to write your history in advance," Williams said exuberantly. "You've got to think it out. When I was young, it has always been like that, it has just been one of those things that I wanted to do."
So far, Williams has authored a remarkable storyline. The latest chapter, meanwhile, returns corner, and the triple threat, into Williams' tale.
For the first time since joining the Badgers, Williams played on defense when Wisconsin faced Northwestern two weeks ago. He entered the game on defense for just one play, but made his presence felt, breaking up a short pass along the sideline.
Northwestern's personnel groupings precluded Williams from seeing the field more often. Williams was set to serve as the team's sixth defensive back against four and five receiver sets. The Wildcats, though, often used two running backs as slot receivers to spread the field against Wisconsin.
The Badgers used their recent bye week to help bring Williams up to speed defensively, and expect him to see the field at corner in coming weeks.
"Now, we feel as though we could get some mileage out of him, primarily in nickel defense…and continue to use him more on offense," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "Just trying to get a little more depth. We've lost a couple guys there so we're trying to be creative in getting some other athletes over there."
With corner Brett Bell and strong safety Joe Stellmacher, who played in the nickel, injured earlier this season, the Badgers have turned to safety Robert Brooks and corner Chuckie Cowans often in five and six defensive back sets. Freshman corner Roderick Rogers has also received playing time. Williams will work into the mix, though Cowans is likely to retain his nickel corner job.
"I think Chuckie Cowans has earned the right to play," Alvarez said. "I thought he probably played as well as anyone in our last game…and I think he's earned some more playing time."
"I'm going to get in a little bit at corner this week, you know, help out wherever I can….Hopefully they will throw the ball that way, (I'll) get a couple PBUs or interceptions," Williams said.
Williams always steps on the field with a swagger. Forget his size, Williams can play and opposing defensive backs have learned some tough lessons the past two seasons, as the nimble Williams has darted his way to 89 receptions for 1,171 yards. No matter who he is lined up against, Williams takes the approach that "this guy can't cover me so let's just throw the ball. I mean, if I get one-on-one coverage I'm going to win all day."
"I do play with a lot of confidence because at my size you've got to and I've got to play with a lot of fire," Williams said.
You can see it when things go awry—if the Badgers fail to execute a play, when the offense is not quite clicking, Williams' emotions come full force, often tossing his arms wildly through the air. The history he has written in advance does not call for failure.
"I mean when I am out there on the field I don't see the people in the stands, the people on the sidelines," he said. "It is just those 22 guys that are out there competing against each other. I'm in that zone right there and I'm not out of that zone until I come off the field."
Williams has been in the zone often on the final piece of his triple threat puzzle—returning kicks. After a slow start that was partly the byproduct of opponents' use of short kickoffs, Williams has exploded, averaging a Big Ten-best 26.4 yards per return in conference games.
"Early in the year they weren't kicking the ball to us for some reason—I don't know why," Williams said with a grin. "We've picked it up big time and I've broke a few. I'm looking forward to breaking a couple more, maybe get one to the house this week."
Asked if teams were respecting his return prowess after he set a school kick return record (670 yards) last season, Williams smiles again.
"I don't think so," he says. "I mean I did alright last year. I want to return kicks, man, kick the ball. I ain't no Dante Hall or anything. Kick the ball."