After an off-season that lasted eight months but seemed like forever, the 2007 season opener against Tennessee is now just hours away, and for Williams, it can't start soon enough.
"We're a little anxious," said Williams, who had 51 tackles last season while starting 12 games as the weakside linebacker. "It's been a waiting game for the opener, but at the same time it's given us a chance to prepare like we're supposed to and we feel confident going into the game. The coaches have been putting in the game plan this week and we just have to go out and execute it."
Although the sting of last year's 35-18 loss to Tennessee might linger with observers who saw one of the rare occasions when a Jeff Tedford-coached team was badly outplayed, Williams doesn't consider last season's Tennessee loss any worse than the losses to USC or Arizona.
"All the losses are the same," said Williams, who had seven tackles each in road games against Oregon State and Washington last season. "People look at those three games and see three losses. We look at all of them as games we shouldn't have lost. In our eyes we should have won them all and gone all the way through."
Williams sentiment is consistent with those of other Cal players. Whereas two years ago, the Golden Bears' 10-win season was a watershed mark for the program, one would be hard pressed to find any player on this year's team who would look at last year's 10-win season and Pac-10 co-championship with any sense of fulfillment. It's that void, that emptiness that has pushed players through off-season workouts and through spring and fall camps.
While Williams was a big contributor to a defense that finished second in the Pac-10 in scoring defense and played a big part in the Bears beating three ranked teams, he felt the need to reinvent himself during the off-season. From being the mega-sized 255-pound linebacker he was as a freshman, he felt the need to get a little smaller. Additionally, this season he's been asked to play middle linebacker, a position where the Bears have had terrific play from Desmond Bishop and Wendell Hunter in recent years.
"I'm a lot wiser and I'm a lot fresher this year," said Williams, a social welfare major. " Last year, I was a little banged up but that's no excuse. Last year was humbling. This year will be a true test."
In shedding a few pounds, Williams has already noticed the difference in his mobility and stamina.
"I feel it," said Williams. "When I was playing at 255, and was running and moving around, nothing felt wrong. But now that I'm now around 244, it feels a lot better. I move around better, I'm in better shape and that'll enable me to stay on the field longer. I know that there may be times that if the opponents are putting together a drive, I may have to be out there for several plays in a row."
While playing a different position will be new for him, from a positioning standpoint, the change will be minimal.
"I'm working on being a complete leader and having more of a nose for the ball," who ran for 738 yards as a senior at Sacramento's Grant Union High School and threw for five touchdowns. "This year I'm moving to the center of the defense, last year I played outside. It'll be more hectic because the play'll be coming at me from both sides. Last year, even though I was playing outside, lots of times I was lined up inside the box."
One place where Williams has spent a lot of time is the film room, working on understanding game situations so that he could sharpen his instincts.
"I spent a lot of time on film study and learning to react better," said Williams who was the team's 2004 defensive scout team player of the year. "I needed to work harder to know the opponent, and know their sets and that'll make it that much easier come game time. Last year I was reacting to what was happening after the play was moving, so I've been working with the coaches to see the game in snapshots, to be able to anticipate and react at the snap and already in fall camp, I've seen improvement."
Williams credits teammate and all-Pac-10 first team linebacker Bishop for setting a strong example.
"I really learned a lot from (Desmond) Bishop. He was great with his film study," said Williams of the current Green Bay Packer, who led the Bears with 126 tackles last season and had a wrecking ball of a performance in last season's Holiday Bowl where he was named Defensive MVP. "I'd go in there and watch with him, and he was always picking things up. Everytime you wondered where he was, he was studying film. As the season went on and I saw him getting better and better, I realized I should have been in there with him more often."
While many defenders this season have mentioned the Holiday Bowl as the team's best defensive performance, Williams holds last year's Oregon game in special regard.
"We came out there and we took it to them. When it was over, we knew played a complete game," said Williams of a game where the Ducks came in as the 10th ranked team in the country but managed to rush for only 70 yards, enroute to absorbing a 45-24 thumping. "They came in there with their spread offense, all their receivers and Dennis Dixon, but we had high expectations playing in our own home. Oregon was ranked higher than us but we put it to them."
Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart was limited to 25 yards on 18 carries, and the Ducks trailed 28-10 at halftime and 38-10 late in the third quarter before tacking on a couple of scores to make the score respectable.
While Williams goals for the season aren't quite as concise as center Alex Mack's "Win", they come close.
"National championship," said Williams. "Personal goals are great, but they go unnoticed if you don't win your games."
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