ATHENS, Ga. — Midway through the 2008 season, Georgia’s coaches went to Nick Williams with an idea: They wanted him to play linebacker. Williams had been a star defensive back in high school, and, at 194 pounds, he didn’t think he was ready to make the move.
Williams had little choice. Linebackers were dropping like flies for the Bulldogs, so the move came out of necessity. After it happened, however, Williams embraced the change and followed the advice of his teammates.
And he hasn’t looked back.
“At first, I was like, ‘I’m not ready; I’m not big enough, not strong enough,’” Williams said. “But it’s all about heart. Look at Rennie (Curran). He’s a prime example. So I just look up to those guys and take their advice.”
Williams didn’t have to look far for a role model.
His high school teammate at Bainbridge (Ga.) and close friend Darryl Gamble had made a similar transition from high school to college and had plenty of success, starting six games at linebacker last season. Gamble mentored Williams and has kept a close eye on his longtime friend throughout the transition.
“He’s like my big brother,” Williams said. “He looks after me. He’s accomplished so much, and that’s something I want to do. I look up to him and use him as a role model.”
Before Gamble graduated from Bainbridge, the two players joked about eventually playing together in the same secondary again at college. Williams doubted that dream would come true. But, although the position swaps mean they won’t play together as safeties, he is thrilled with the twist of fate that has brought them together again.
“I never thought I’d get a chance to do that, but it’s a reality now,” Williams said. “It’s unbelievable that we were just together in high school, and what are the chances of two safeties coming to college and moving to the same position?”
The move was meant to be temporary, but Williams said he now is at linebacker for the long haul. He has added nearly 30 pounds to his frame — he’s up to 222 — and would like to add another 10. Before last season, Williams was running the 40-yard dash in around 4.4 seconds, and he hopes to stay close to that at his new weight — something that would make him more than just a stopgap solution at linebacker.
“(Head coach Mark Richt) told me, if I get up to 230, I won’t be able to run that, but I think I can handle it,” Williams said.
Williams’ only game experience at linebacker came in Georgia’s bowl game against Michigan State, when the freshman darted onto the field following a minor injury to starter Dannell Ellerbe, and it wasn’t exactly a notable debut. Williams was confused, but he held his own. After three snaps, he was back off the field, relegated to the special-teams duties he had enjoyed throughout the year.
Williams didn’t make his mark on the field in 2008, but he said the experience alone was priceless.
“There is nothing like game experience,” Williams said. “You can rep, rep, rep at practice, but there’s nothing like Saturday. And I’m going to tell you, that Saturday at kickoff, nothing prepares you better than being on the field on Saturday.”