On the field, though, Williams enters the 2014 season second to no one. After quietly blossoming into one of college football’s best cornerbacks a year ago, Williams leads a group of Florida State defensive backs that are collectively confident they’ll remain the best in the nation despite the loss of Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks to the NFL this off-season.
“We pride ourselves on being the best defensive backfield in the country,” Williams said. “We work hard every day to get better. We all go hard. We have some great young players, great starters, everybody can play. Everybody has experience pretty much and we pride ourselves on being the best defensive backs in the country.
When fall camp kicks off early next month, Williams will headline a position group that also features atop the depth chart fellow junior standout corner Ronald Darby, high-upside sophomores Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews and now-healthy redshirt junior safety Tyler Hunter and is rounded out by an equal mixture of talented veterans and youngsters. His emergence as a first-time starter in 2013 was critical to FSU’s march towards a national championship — a memorable contest that saw the Ocala, Fla. native earn defensive MVP honors in California.
Williams’ ascension up the depth chart and into 2015 first-round NFL mock drafts and the minds of opposing offensive coordinators, wide receivers and quarterbacks alike hasn’t been by chance. Williams’ dedication to developing his game is on display during each every practice-field snap of the football.
“I throw against him every day,” Winston said. “So obviously he’s making me better and I’m trying to make him better. And the guys that I have to throw to are definitely making him better.”
Winston was just one of several elite, top-50 national prospects that signed with the Seminoles as part of a star-studded 2012 class that played a major role in the program’s third national title.
And while Williams, a longtime verbal commitment to FSU as a high school prospect, was a top-flight four-star recruit in that class, he didn’t bring with him the same attention and expectations to Tallahassee that such signees as Winston, Mario Edwards, Jr., Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby did.
“We had like the No. 1, No. 2 class [and] I came in and wanted to play early,” Williams said. “I played a little [as a freshman] and didn’t redshirt. I knew I had to get better. I moved to corner and I knew I wasn’t as good so I just knew I had to get better throughout the season and then last spring I got a whole lot better and earned a starting job.”
Before earning that starting spot in the spring of 2013, Williams played in all 14 games as a special teams player and reserve cornerback in 2012.
During practices his freshman year, Williams would routinely get beaten by FSU’s elite wide receivers as he struggled to master a new position.
“It was frustrating because corner was way different,” he told reporters Sunday. “Going from safety in high school to corner is college is way different because you’ve got to learn a whole lot of different techniques. Just being confident, you have to have a whole different level of confidence.”
As his confidence grew, so did Williams’ impact. When Xavier Rhodes left FSU early and was selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the `Noles’ void at starting cornerback needed to be filled and Williams took advantage of the opportunity.
A year after starting a season as a first-time starter, Williams’ hard work has turned him into a first-time superstar — and a player whose on-field performance in 2014 will be critical to Florida State’s title defense.
Said Winston: “He’s accepted his role as being one of the elite guys on this team.”