by Mason Kelley
Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens - the stars of today's NFL, they are the role models for young receivers nationwide.
Husky junior wide receiver Reggie Williams, however, is a little more old-school. The player Williams admires most hasn't put on a uniform in nearly 30 years.
"Fred Biletnikoff wasn't the fastest guy but he was just so skilled in what he could do," Williams says of the NFL Hall of Famer. "He could manipulate a defensive back. I learned that t is not so much your speed that makes a difference, it is how you set up the DB."
A star for the Oakland Raiders in the '60s and '70s, Biletnikoff led the team to a Super Bowl title in 1977, and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1988.
Biletnikoff, though, didn't play in the digital age, when the proliferation of internet media and the explosion of online recruiting services anoint players as superstars even before they've ever set foot on a college campus. While some players crack under the immense pressures placed upon them by fans and media, Williams was unfazed.
"All the attention was easy to deal with, I liked it," Williams says of the media frenzy that followed his 881-yard, 16 TD senior season at Lakes (Wash.) High School. "The cameras and the interviews, it was fun. There wasn't any pressure. I put more pressure on myself. I just count on myself to do the best that I can."
Any doubts as to whether Williams could handle the spotlight were put to rest right away. In Washington's season-opening battle with Michigan in 2001, Williams not only became the first UW freshman ever to start in his collegiate debut, but made a major contribution to the Huskies' 23-18 win, grabbing four catches for 134 yards.
"It was crazy, man, Williams recalls. "I wasn't nervous at all, though. When you first come down that tunnel, it is real dark, then when you come out it's all bright and the fans are going crazy. That is one of the best memories I have ever had."
Williams recorded a catch in every game of his freshman season, and has since extended that streak to 36 straight games, the longest active streak in the Pac-10 and among the top-20 longest such streaks in the nation.
After earning freshman All-America honors with a 55-catch, 973-yard season, Williams raised the bar yet again, exploding in 2002 for 94 receptions and 1,454 yards 2002, to shatter UW records in both categories. His two-year total of 2,427 yards was unprecedented in Pac-10 history, while only two Pac-10 receivers could claim more than his 149 catches through his first two seasons.
While much of Williams' success is due to his prodigious talent, he also recognizes that he has been fortunate to have an outstanding quarterback in senior Cody Pickett. Over their first two seasons together, Pickett and Williams established themselves as the most statistically prolific pass-catch combo in Pac-10 history, besting such notable duos as Rob Johnson and Johnnie Morton (USC, 1992-93), Erik Wilhelm and Robb Thomas (OSU, 1987-88) and Jim Plunkett and Randy Vataha (Stanford, 1969-70).
"I am real comfortable with Cody Pickett," Williams says. "We have been together for three years, so there are situations where he knows what I am thinking and I know what he is thinking, without even having to say anything."
In addition to Pickett, Williams has been blessed with a talented complementary receiver - Charles Frederick - whose mere presence prevents defenses from focusing their attention on Williams alone. Both members of the same recruiting class in 2001, the duo have different strengths and weaknesses, but work together to improve each other's game.
"He is a big guy and I am a short, speedy guy, so we work well together," Frederick says. "I try to teach him a little of the techniques I know and he teaches me some of the techniques he knows. He can do it all, though - if he gets a smaller DB, he uses his size for an advantage. If he gets a big DB, he uses his speed."
Williams' size and speed has helped make him a candidate for college football's highest honor for a wide receiver, named - appropriately enough - the Fred Biletnikoff Award. The Husky senior is one of three Williams' among the 10 semifinalists for the award, a list that includes both Texas' Roy Williams and USC's Mike Williams.
"I like my Williams best," Frederick says.
On some teams, having two star receivers could create tension, but hard as it may be to imagine, Frederick and Williams are even better friends than they are players.
After Frederick broke a 53-year-old UW record with 371 all-purpose yards in the Huskies' 38-17 win at Oregon State earlier this season, Williams was one of the first to congratulate him.
"He said, 'Man, great job,'" Frederick recalls. "I told him, 'I went out and had fun this week. Next week, it's your turn.'"
Williams has had plenty of fun this season. His 82 receptions are tied for ninth-most ever by a Pac-10 receiver, while his 1,050 yards and eight touchdowns each rank among the highest single-season totals in UW history.
Remarkably, in just three seasons Williams has already climbed to second on the Pac-10's career receiving lists for receptions and yards with 236 and 3,539, respectively, and with at least one game remaining on the UW's schedule, needs just needs 13 receptions to break the Pac-10 career record of 248.
"I really try not to pay attention to that," Williams says. "I just know I've got to go out and do my job on Saturdays."
Williams' success on Saturdays has put him in line for regular work on Sundays. Williams, however, refuses to speculate on his future.
"Whenever I get to the NFL I am sure it will be hard," he says. "But, I'll take it on just like I did when I was a freshman here. I will just have to work hard and prepare myself."
Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens ... Reggie Williams? If the Husky receiver continues to model his game after one of the NFL's all-time greats, maybe someday soon young fans everywhere will have a new superstar to follow.