Kasen Williams Wants More - Much, Much More
April 21, 2012
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Kasen Williams has already gone local. He stayed home at Washington out of Skyline High School in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish last year -- when just about every college in the country with goal posts wanted to sign the Parade Magazine national high school player of the year.
He's gone airborne, too, hurdling a standing Washington State defensive back in the open field on an amazing run as a true freshman following a catch in November's Apple Cup.
Now, for his sophomore season, Williams wants to go ... national.
"I just want to be more on a national level," Williams, who had 36 catches and six touchdowns last season, said well before the Huskies held their first spring open practice Saturday at Memorial Stadium inside Seattle Center.
Coach Steve Sarkisian challenged his potential star soon after December's Alamo Bowl to produce at an elite level. And the fourth-year coach and offensive play caller has the potential to put Williams in position for massive production.
Record-setting and precise passer Keith Price is back and healthier than he's been since last August. Plus, occasionally dominant tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is back to keep pass defenses honest in the middle and hesitant to devote much extra coverage to Williams outside.
Sarkisian asked the question publically before the Huskies even took the field this spring:
"Can Kasen take the next step?"
It's a measure of the unique physical gifts possessed by Williams - the Washington state champion in the triple jump, high jump and long jump while also a basketball standout in high school - that he and Sarkisian saw his UW debut season as subpar.
His 36 receptions as a true freshman trailed only seniors Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar among Husky wide receivers, and his six touchdown catches were one behind Kearse for the team lead. He was also had 15 of Washington's 21 punt returns, averaging 9.6 per return with a long of 46 yards.
Williams struggled early in his freshman season with the nuances of the wide receiver position: Precise route running, plus using his hands, feet and body better in getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly against press coverage.
He had 26 of his 36 receptions and four of his six touchdowns in the last seven games of 2011. He credited his late surge to confidence, saying he got more as he began noticing he was bigger than most of those defenders covering him.
Two of his touchdowns came in the Apple Cup, when he showed a national cable television audience his electrifying athleticism.
Williams burned a Washington State defense that looked stunned by how great his plays were on Nov. 26. The first was a one-arm snare of a 16-yard dart from Price zinged over the ear hole of WSU's defensive back in the end zone. Then he became Superman to set up his second touchdown of the first half. The 7-foot high jumper in 2010 at Skyline hurdled a Cougar and stayed on his feet to run for the final yards of a wowing, 18-yard reception.
"What a ridiculous play by Kasen Williams. I mean, Jiminy Christmas," Sarkisian said that night. "It looked like he jumped seven feet in the air - just like he's a seven-foot high jumper. I have a feeling that highlight ... is going to be shown for a long, long time."
On the next play, Price found Williams open between a cornerback and a safety on the left side of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, and Washington was on its way to finishing its first winning regular season since 2002.
Williams, the son of former UW standout wide receiver Aaron Williams, a four-year letterman for the Huskies from 1979-82, just shrugs over last season.
"Freshman year, I did well, but I know I could have done better," he said. "In the weight room. Watching film. Just showing more dedication."
To that end, Williams says he has decided against running and jumping for UW coach Greg Metcalf's track program this spring, though he leaves open the possibility of doing both sports for the Huskies next year.
"He's just going to focus on football," Sarkisian says. "I think he realizes the opportunity that's ahead of him and where he can fit in at the wide receiver position.
"And I think he wants to seize the opportunity."
He's seizing his first ones of 2012 this spring.
As part of new coordinator Justin Wilcox's increased aggressiveness and tighter coverage at the line for the Huskies' defense this year, cornerbacks and safeties are regularly in tackling drills with receivers. Almost no one has been able to take down the 6-foot-2 Williams in them.
Williams, who wears the same No. 2 his dad did at UW 30 years ago, added 15 pounds from his playing weight of 200 last season through training with UW strength coach Ivan Lewis. His broad, rising shoulders and tree trunk-like neck look like those of a lineman more than of a wide receiver.
"I feel like I'm stronger," he said.
When asked if that weight-room effort was to get off the line more decisively this season against bold defensive backs, Williams nodded.
"Yessir. Yessir. That's definitely a concern," he said. "We're going to see a lot of man coverage this season.
"But the best thing about (the added bulk) is, I feel faster, as well."
As for his potential? That looks limitless.
"We want Kasen to be strong and physical," Sarkisian said. "The difference for Kasen is that when he was in high school, he was in football, basketball and track, so he was constantly doing things. Now with just football and offseason conditioning, he's been able to build his body up but still stay explosive.
"It will be interesting to see how can carry that weight as we move forward."
Interesting for UW. And for opponents this fall, potentially scary.
QUICK HITS: The sun shined on UW's first open practice of the spring Saturday morning downtown. ... Roughly 1,500 fans were on hand for the workout on perhaps the best weather day of the year in Seattle. ... It was the second consecutive year Sarkisian has taken the Huskies to 65-year-old Memorial Stadium for a public workout. ... UW gets back to campus for practices Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings next week. ... The Huskies have one more open spring practice: next Saturday's spring game at CenturyLink Field beginning at 1 p.m. Husky Stadium's ongoing renovations have forced UW to its back, east practice field on campus and forced Sarkisian to close practices out of concern for fan safety on the cramped sidelines.