Huskies' Williams proving he's a hero in the making

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2001

SEATTLE -- The drill looked easy enough. Four orange cones formed a square on the Husky Stadium turf, giving players some tight turns to work on speed.

Yet the conditioning exercise was causing trouble for many of Washington's players during a practice way back in August.

Enter Reggie Williams. The freshman receiver squared off the corners, gaining speed in the short distance between the markers -- exactly how it was intended to be done. His teammates cheered, his coaches saw a glimpse of greatness.

''I just came in wanting to earn my keep,'' Williams said. ''I wanted to prove to everybody I wasn't just hype.''

Williams is headed to the biggest stage of his young career Saturday. The No. 12 Huskies (8-2) play No. 1 Miami (9-0) at the Orange Bowl, looking to spoil things again for the Hurricanes.

Washington handed Miami its only loss last season, costing the Hurricanes a chance to play for the national title.

''I feel like we can definitely get to the freshman,'' Miami cornerback Markese Fitzgerald said of Williams. ''He has experience, but he hasn't experienced playing a secondary as good as ours.''

Williams has exploited some pretty good defenses, though. Even when opponents key on him, he finds ways to grab the ball and keep it in his hands.

He had his best game yet last week, with 11 receptions for 203 yards in Washington's 26-14 victory over 15th-ranked Washington State in the Apple Cup. It was the best effort by any Pac-10 receiver this year, and a record in the annual cross-state rivalry game.

''I'm not sure that Reggie hasn't been a marked man all year long,'' Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel said. ''It is not as though teams haven't realized who Reggie Williams is. It would surprise me if Miami would change.

''They believe that they are the best in the country and I believe that they are going to do what they do and see if anyone can stand up and go toe to toe with them.''

Williams will try. He's quarterback Cody Pickett's top target, with 49 catches for 888 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging a team-leading 88.8 yards per game.

''I expected things to happen,'' Williams said. ''And when they do happen it's not such a shocker.''

Receiver Paul Arnold jokes that he hopes Pickett won't forget about him with Williams around.

Williams was one of the most sought-after receivers in the country last year coming out of Lakes High School in Tacoma. He's lived up to his billing.

It took only a couple of plays in his first game before Williams showed what he can do. He dropped the first two passes Pickett threw him in the Huskies' season opener against Michigan. Neuheisel gave him a short pep talk, and he was fine.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Williams has a unique combination of size and speed. He chose Washington over Michigan, Notre Dame and UCLA and formed an instant bond with Neuheisel.

As a senior at Lakes last year, Williams caught 45 passes for 811 yards and 16 touchdowns.

He also rushed 34 times for 512 yards and seven touchdowns, and made eight interceptions on defense.

He's still amazed at what he's doing now.

''This is my first year being on TV all the time,'' he said. ''I was on TV two times in high school. The exposure is cool. I'm still in awe.''

This weekend will be his farthest trip from home. Two weeks ago, he visited the state of Oregon for the first time for Washington's game against Oregon State in Corvallis. It's only about a three-hour trip by car from Tacoma to Portland, but Williams didn't travel much growing up.

He's already said he wants to play in the NFL and likely will leave Washington early to pursue that dream. Some pro scouts have compared him to NFL receivers Randy Moss and J.J. Stokes. Williams has patterned his game after NFL players he admires.

He sets simple goals. This year, he wanted to be a starter.

''I knew if I was a starter I'd have catches and touchdowns,'' he said.

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