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HomeSportsUT
Published: Thursday, 9/13/2007

Williams UT's rocket man

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo's Stephen Williams looks for some room after catching a pass against Central Michigan on Saturday. The sophomore had the best night of his career against the Chippewas, catching six passes for 157 yards. He also had a 74-yard touchdown called back. Toledo's Stephen Williams looks for some room after catching a pass against Central Michigan on Saturday. The sophomore had the best night of his career against the Chippewas, catching six passes for 157 yards. He also had a 74-yard touchdown called back.
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Stephen Williams, speaking in a Texas drawl, broke into laughter at the thought.

After his 74-yard touchdown catch that was called back against Central Michigan, the one where he gained almost 10 yards of separation from his defender after the catch, no, he wasn't winded.

"Coach [Chris] Hedden has us running about 10,000 miles in practice every day," Williams, a starting receiver for the University of Toledo, explained.

One series later, Williams proved his legs were fresh. Just before halftime in Mount Pleasant, he caught a pass from fellow receiver Nick Moore on a gadget play and took it 47 yards for a TD.

It was tricky to gauge just how much faster he was than his defender on that one, because there was no one remotely close to him.

Williams had the best night of his young career against the Chippewas, catching six passes for 157 yards. In addition to his long touchdown reception, he had catches of 35 and 41 yards.

"He's got a lot of big-play potential in him," UT coach Tom Amstutz said.

Williams' potential brought him to Toledo. A 6-foot-5, 197-pound sophomore from Houston, Williams played receiver for just one year at Marshall High School. He received a look from UT because his receivers coach played for offensive coordinator John Shannon at Jackson State.

"There's no doubt that he's still learning," Hedden said.

The summer before his senior year of high school, Williams asked his high school coach Dennis Brantley if he could move from safety to receiver. He felt it was his ticket to a college scholarship and beyond.

Brantley agreed but put Williams through an intense receivers boot camp, where he caught 100 balls a day. "It was kind of a rough start," Williams admitted.

But the speedster relied on his 4.45 speed and 37-inch vertical honed in track and field, catching 39 passes and seven touchdowns his senior year. He had looks from several Texas schools, including Houston, Baylor, and Texas Tech, but he chose UT because of what he saw on the weeknights he turned on ESPN.

"I saw Lance Moore, and he was catching 10 balls a game," Williams said. "I thought it would be a good choice to come up here and play in the passing offense."

Williams started five games as a redshirt freshman last year, but he has already surpassed last season's production after two games. He has the confidence needed to be one of the leaders of the receiving corps.

"I want the team and coaches to trust that when they need a big play, they can call upon me," Williams said. "I would love it to have my name connected with that."

After the spring, Williams was first-string and he held onto the spot in camp. He's quickly becoming one of QB Aaron Opelt's favorite targets, also catching three balls in the Purdue game.

"The biggest thing Stephen has done is develop a work ethic," Hedden said. "Not that he didn't work hard in the past, I just think he's really elevated it."

Williams is one of two UT players from Texas, along with senior receiver David Washington. He's glad to have someone to complain to about the cold winter weather and talk about home, but said, "When I came, the team made me feel like family."

After his big game Saturday Williams called down to Texas to talk with his old coach Brantley, who he considers a father figure.

"He was probably more excited than me," Williams said. "He said he knew I was going to have a breakout game, he was just waiting for it to happen."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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