Albany State freshman and former Mitchell County star Jaquan Williams has caught four passes this season for 61 yards and one TD, but the speedy wideout could get a bigger role in the offense with sophomore starter Tevin Isom battling a rib injury. (Staff photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Albany State quarterback Frank Rivers took one look at Jaquan Williams and knew exactly what type of receiver he was.
A “fearless” one.
“I said that from the first day I met him. I said, ‘He’s not scared of anything,’ ” Rivers said on Wednesday. “One thing I’ve always noticed about him is that he is fearless. If you are a receiver and you aren’t scared of anything, you can do a lot for the team.”
Williams, a freshman out of Camilla, has already made an impact in his brief college career and could start seeing even more looks from Rivers after a rib injury sidelined starting receiver Tevin Isom.
And it’s a challenge the former Mitchell County star is ready to accept.
“It’s another opportunity, so I have to go hard. It’s another opportunity for me to get on the field and show them what I can do,” said Williams, who has four catches for 61 yards and a TD this season. “(Rivers) knows he can throw the ball to me, and great things can happen. He knows if he throws it to me I will give my all even if it’s too far or too short. I will try to go get it.”
Williams is just the latest star WR to come out of Camilla, a city with a population of just over 5,000 that both Albany State No. 1 receiver Jessie Atkins and Georgia sophomore wideout Justin Scott-Wesley call home. Williams says it goes back to his days with the Mitchell County football team that made him — and Camilla’s other star receivers — college-level players.
“In high school they were teaching us how to read the defense and know the coverages so you know what spot is open and you know how to sit in the dead zone,” Williams said. “We used to catch eggs out there in the summer to work on our hands. We would do foot drills and everything during the summer. I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to quit every day.”
Instead, Williams became one of the best all-around football players in Southwest Georgia by his senior season at Mitchell County when he rushed for 737 yards on 86 carries and 11 TDs, passed for 169 yards and a touchdown and had five receptions for 67 yards. He also ran in eight 2-point conversions and had 321 yards in kickoff returns, racking up 1,294 all-purpose yards.
He was everywhere on the field for the Eagles, and if he has it his way he will soon become just as important to the Golden Rams, who are 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the SIAC and in desperate need for a spark to ignite their season.
ASU coach Mike White said Williams still has plenty of inexperience that comes with any true freshman but that the sky is the roof for the 5-foot-7, 170-pound wideout.
“Jaquan is a very exciting athlete, and I think he has a huge upside,” White said. “You are going to see some exciting plays by him in the future. He just has a lot of growing up to do right now. He is a young guy, a young freshman and he is still in that giggle mode right now. He still has a little ways to go, but right now he looks good for a freshman.”
Williams, who is the only Ram other than Atkins (401 yards, 4 TDs) with a receiving TD this season, said it was his former high school teammate who convinced him to sign with ASU.
“Jessie said he knew how I played and that I should be able to get some playing time,” Williams said about Atkins, who wasn’t at practice on Wednesday but started alongside Williams at Mitchell County during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Atkins was right on the money.
Williams has played in every game this season and even started Nov. 14 against Tuskegee when he made his first career catch — a 26-yard reception from Rivers during a key drive in the third quarter. It was also against Tuskegee when Williams nearly had his first career TD when he caught a pass in the end zone, but the play was called back after he was called for illegal formation after not properly lining up on the line of scrimmage.
“(ASU offensive coordinator Steve) Smith tells me all the time to have discipline,” Williams said. “That was the only thing going through my head after that play, what coach Smith tells me every day. It was my own fault.”
Williams made up for the mistake the following week against Elizabeth City State when he caught a 13-yard TD pass from Rivers in the fourth quarter to clinch a victory for the Rams.
And guess who was right there in the end zone celebrating with Williams?
“Jessie was the first person I saw,” Williams said. “As soon as I turned around, I saw him running toward me. He had his hands up saying, ‘I told you, I told you.’ From now on every time I catch a touchdown he will be the first person I am looking for.”
And when Rivers needs a touchdown, he might be glancing Williams’ direction more often as the season goes on.
“(Williams) is definitely a guy who can step up. He can play a bigger role than he already does with Isom down. He will be able to handle that,” Rivers said. “He is a quick guy and a playmaker. If you get the ball in his hands, he can make a couple of guys miss and get some good yardage.”
Rivers said Williams reminds him a lot of Atkins, who was the leading receiver for the Rams last year and is on pace for nearly 1,000 receiving yards this season.
“You can tell they are from the same place,” Rivers said. “They have a similar game. Jessie is a little bit more experienced and probably a little stronger because he has been on a college weight program longer, but I can see Jaquan being that same caliber player or better when he gets older.”
Williams doesn’t expect anything less as he reaches for the level of success that Camilla receivers like Scott-Wesley and Atkins have already established.
“Everybody out here always tells me that they see something in me,” Williams said. “I might be standing by myself on the side of the field, and somebody will come up and tell me that I am going to be great, and that I just have to keep working at it.
“I can be one of those receivers that you will have to double team. I can be another Jessie. People are going to know about me.”