Oct. 7, 2010
Gregg Bell Unleashed: Locker's Legendary Weekend
Weekly Press Release in PDF Format
Sark, Huskies Taking Lessons Forward To ASU Game
Folk Named Pac-10 Player Of The Week
UW-OSU Game Selected By ESPN For 7:15 p.m. Kick
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - If a sideline television camera happens to zoom in on Nate Williams during a game, there will be a reason he doesn't give the obligatory "Hi Mom!"
The Huskies' senior co-captain just saw her.
"The night before every game I give him an inspirational card, at the team hotel. They say `You are going to win! Get ready! Do your thing!' All positive, and always that `you are going to win,'" Gina Williams says through the telephone from the family's home in the Seattle suburb of Renton.
"We meet him in the lobby, usually right after Friday night team meeting."
And Mom wouldn't be watching the game on TV, anyway. She and her husband Terry would be in section 19 or 21 of Husky Stadium. Or in section whatever of any road stadium. They were in the Los Angeles Coliseum last week. They will be in Tucson and Eugene and Berkeley and Pullman later this season, too.
"They come to every home game. I think last year my parents traveled to all but three road games," Nate Williams says. "And this year they've already said they are going to make it to every single game.
"I am really close to my family. ... It's nice to have that tight ring of support around me all the time."
Terry, a native of Oklahoma, is a computer engineer at Microsoft Corp. who coached Nate to titles in the Renton junior football league when his boy was eight. Terry calls Gina, who works in customer services for Alaska Airlines, the family's "glue, that loving and touching hand." The parents of three boys are taking advantage of her employee flight benefits to follow their middle son, an NFL prospect, and his Huskies on the road.
And Nate - still "Nathan" to mom and dad - is taking full advantage of staying home to go to college.
"(They) have been there since I was eight years old," the 2006 Washington Class 3A player of the year at Renton's Kennedy High School says.
The pride gushes out like more sweat on his practice jersey.
"You know, I'm happy where I'm at," Williams says, smiling.
He's one of Washington's undisputed leaders, along with quarterback Jake Locker and linebackers Mason Foster and Cort Dennison. And, no, nobody teases the forceful tackler about his mom being around so much.
In fact, Williams' parents think the rest of the Huskies wish they had it so good.
"Gosh ... I think the other kids envy it," Gina says of her weekly TLC.
The Huskies' young, developing defense looks to her son for guidance on calls before each snap. And Williams takes pride in being there for them, though true to his relatively laid-back personality he doesn't scream to command attention or respect. He likens himself to Locker, a lead-by-example type.
"With everything that has happened with this program in the four years that I've been here, no matter what happens in practice or out there on the field on the weekend, I just feel like the leaders on the team have to stay positive," Williams says.
Along with more impacting leadership, Williams thinks he's improved his tackling with new coach Steve Sarkisian's staff over the last two seasons. His father says Nate has "physically and mentally matured so much these last two years," and particularly cites the work of new strength coach Ivan Lewis.
Williams is on track to graduate in the spring with a degree in sociology. He says "if the whole NFL thing doesn't work out" he'd like to be a teacher.
That's a mighty big if.
Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com, sees the 6-foot, 215-pound Williams as the nation's fourth-best senior draft prospect at strong safety.
"Should he answer questions about his straight-line speed, he likely would not get out of the fourth round," Rang said last week, referring to next April's NFL draft.
"Nate Williams is a classic in-the-box strong safety who is at his best coming up in run support. He typically takes good angles to the ball and is a reliable open-field tackler who flashes some pop as a hitter," Rang said, noting Williams also reads plays quickly but needs to prove consistency at covering professional-caliber slot receivers.
Williams is looking forward to that chance.
"I think for everyone who is playing at this level, their dream and one of their goals is to play at that next level," he says. "That's where I'm at right now. I just have to stay healthy and have a real consistent year more than anything, and everything will work out for me."
He could have gone almost anywhere as a 1,900-yard rusher with 41 touchdowns who was also his defense's MVP in his senior season at Kennedy.
He visited UCLA and mulled an offer from the Bruins. He visited Michigan, which wanted him badly.
This was a year after Williams proclaimed to his parents that he wanted to sign with a program that was as far away as possible, to assert his independence.
"He's such a Mama's boy," Terry Williams says. "We knew."
Sure enough when Nate got his last offer, from then-coach Tyrone Willingham and Washington, he leaped at it like it was a tipped pass floating free.
"I took a trip over to Michigan, and that was just a little too far from home, you know? I was over there for a week, and I just ... I don't know. Leaving my mom and everything, I just wasn't ready for that," Williams says.
"Then I got an offer from here last. I only live about 20 minutes away, so it was really close to home. I'd be able to hang out with all my friends on the weekends. I could still see my parents on the weekends. That was one of the main factors."
He goes home to Renton often, most recently during the bye weekend that preceded last week's game at USC. While there, he could have gawked at his local swimming records that still stand from 1996 when he was seven years old. He can thank Mom for those, too. She stayed true to her Hawaiian family roots when she threw Nate and his older brother in the pool starting when each was six months old.
Instead while home last month, Nate spent more time eating his favorite - Mom's taco dip -- with his parents, his 23-year-old brother Marcus and his younger brother Andre, who just turned 19.
Andre has Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes abnormal development of parts of his body. He has battled through a heart defect, kidney problems and other issues. Those have kept him from following Nate onto the fields of competition -- but not from his older brother's heart.
"Andre is a big inspiration for Nathan," Terry Williams says. "When they get together, it's like two best friends. He means so much to him." Andre is yet another reason Nate will never regret his choice to stay home for college - even though he has seen a decade's worth of highs, lows and turmoil in his four years at Washington.
He was one of seven true freshmen to play for Willingham's Huskies in 2007 and was named their freshman of the year at the end of a 4-9 season. Then came 2008.
"Looking back at it now, it really went by fast. But when I was going through it, it really seemed like a grind, like it would never end - especially my second year here. That was the 0-12 year," Williams says. "I just didn't think it was ever going to end." His dad recalls Nate had "meltdowns" during that '08 season.
But being close to home was this Husky's salvation.
"We had to pick him back up," Terry Williams says.
Nate adds that "those first two years, I really don't think that anyone was happy with their choice coming here, just the way everything was with the coaching staff and just our record. Nothing seemed to be in our favor."
But Sarkisian restored hope with his arrival in 2009. Then came the highlight of Williams' career. He had six solo tackles and a fumble recovery as Washington stunned third-ranked USC at Husky Stadium last Sept. 19.
"It still gives me the chills when I am out here," Williams say, scanning empty Husky Stadium following practice. "Everyone was on the field, jumping around. I was getting hugged by just random people. I was just so happy. It was probably one of the most memorable things that has ever happened to me in my life up to now.
"I am sure when I am 80 years old I am going to be telling my grandkids about that. I will never, EVER, forget that moment."
Following this week's matchup with Arizona State, Williams will have just three more home games in his UW career. Just three more chances to make final Husky Stadium memories.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it," Williams says. "I feel like I'm going to create memories here that last a lifetime. I feel like I am going to create the friendships here that will last a lifetime, as well. I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can while I'm here these last couple months."
And don't judge Williams' collegiate career by whether Washington makes it to its first bowl since 2002 this season.
"It's just being out here having fun, because we are playing a game. I think a lot of people forget that," he says, refreshingly. "Even though we are up at 6, watching film every day, and working, we are still just playing a game. We were out here playing on the same fields when we were eight, nine years old.
Nothing really should change from then when you just out there running around having fun until now.
"It would be nice to play in a bowl because the seniors haven't gone to one. That would be an ideal way to end your career here. But if not, if we don't, I'm not going to say my career here was terrible. I think as a team, we did do some amazing things. And individually I think there were a lot of great things and memorable things that happened here.
"But," Williams says, smiling one more time, "it would be nice to end that way."