Ashante Williams enrolled early from Mayfield, Ohio, so he could contribute on the field as a freshman. However, a difficult academic course load got the better of him, forcing him to redshirt last fall.
A running back in high school, Williams made the switch to cornerback. Then last spring, he was moved to safety, where he began Camp Rantoul as a third stringer. He earned a spot on the kickoff team, but he wanted more.
To the surprise of most everyone except Williams, he found himself as the starting nickel back for the Penn State game. He has made amazing progress in little more than a month.
"Yeah, I have," Williams concurs. "I just kept my nose clean, made sure I worked as hard as possible, and I was in the film room for massive amounts of study. I was doing anything I could do to better my game.
"I just kept working. My dad told me to keep my head up and keep working as hard as you can."
Williams hasn't practiced much at nickel, but he says there are benefits to moving around in the secondary.
"No, I haven't actually. But by playing all three positions, in a year and a half I've learned the whole secondary. (Penn State) was my first game at nickel. They're just trying to find a spot for me where I can best help the team."
Nickel is a hybrid position, a mixture of cornerback, safety and linebacker. In fact, he replaces the strongside linebacker in passing situations.
"Yeah, that's basically what it is. You're basically like another corner. You can cover, but you can also blitz. They've got packages for me to blitz. When we're in zone coverage, I'm basically another person in the box. It's a fun position. You've got to know how to cover, tackle and blitz. So it's kind of a linebacker/safety/corner position.
"I kind of like playing against both (run and pass). I like covering people, but I also like hitting. It's easier to play the run. You just see the play and go."
Williams admits to some mistakes in his time on the field, but he is striving to learn from them.
"There were just a few mishaps and mistakes here and there that's easily corrected. Just get back in the film room and study to make those changes. Make sure it doesn't happen again."
Practicing with the Illinois team for a year and a half made him accustomed to the speed of the game. But he was uncertain how he would respond to game situations until he got on the field.
"I thought I was going to be nervous. But after the game I was so proud because I wasn't nervous or had butterflies. I just went out there like it was another practice."
Williams had great success as a high school runner, but practicality helped fulfill his dad's vision for him.
"My dad always told me he thought I'd be a corner or safety in college. But I wanted to play running back and get the ball in my hands. But I didn't want to take the beating on my body. So basically I switched for longevity."
The 5'-10", 195 pounder tends to be too muscle bound for his own good. If he works too hard on the weights, his body becomes less flexible.
"I need to do a lot more flexibility than a lot of guys. I worked on my hips all last season, yoga and different things. It helps me stay on my backpedal and stuff like that."
What does he need to work on?
"Basically, mading sure my hips stay loose. Also being a more vocal leader on the field. And I need more game action to get experience. I got a little taste of the pie, and now I want the whole thing."
Williams has his game in order, and he is getting his academics in order as well.
"I'm doing good in school right now. It's slowed down. I know how to handle my schedule with football and school. I'm still undecided on a major. I might major in Sociology, RST (Sports, Recreation and Tourism) or Communications. I have to declare a major after this semester."