(Photo: August Frank/Oregon News Lab)
After Arizona State’s dejecting road loss to Oregon last year, a 5-foot-10 teenager, who only months before had graduated high school, was helping push Sun Devil equipment trunks up the tunnel at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
If not for the white #10 jersey he was wearing, you would have never known it was ASU wide receiver Kyle Williams who was lending the equipment team a post-game hand, let alone that he had just made his first collegiate catch hours earlier as part of a three-reception performance against the Ducks.
“It’s just who I am. I just try to act the way my mother raised me and act the way my family raised me to be a respectful young man,” Williams said. “If you see someone in need, no matter what happened, no matter where you are, you help them if you can and you do whatever you can to help them out.”
Much love @kylewilliamsVI
Played his heart out, and after a game like that helped us push trunks up the tunnel to the semi. True class act
— SunDevilEquipment (@SunDevilEquip) October 30, 2016
For Kyle Williams, football is just another piece of the puzzle, as he works toward lofty goals in both his game and in his life.
Entering his second year in Tempe, the sophomore wide out appears poised for a breakout season on the field. In 2016, Williams exceeded expectations during a six-catch, 56-yard freshman campaign.
The Southern California native has again been a stand out during training camp this fall. During last week’s visit to Camp Tontozona, Williams showed off his speed on a long catch-and-run touchdown during a two-minute drill. Then, in last Saturday’s scrimmage in Payson, he was the only receiver with a TD catch after hauling in a 25-yard scoring toss from Blake Barnett.
“I’ve been trying to focus on my routes and on my technique,” Williams said. “I see it paying off…I’m just trying to be more physical and trying to perfect my game.”
In a developing wide receivers room filled with veteran faces and highly-touted transfers, Williams continues to keep his name near at the top of his coaches’, and teammates’, minds.
For example, redshirt junior and current starting slot receiver Jalen Harvey has been so impressed with the rising second-teamer that he has Williams take his spot for some starters’ reps during practice.
“Seeing him improve, that makes me happy because I’m helping him as well,” Harvey explained. “When he scores, I score.”
While his football achievements continue to grow, Williams’ efforts in the classroom further distinguish him from the typical college athlete.
As a pre-med student in the Barrett Honors College at ASU, the Murrieta High School graduate chose a more challenging academic path than most. Yet, his extra classwork hasn’t impacted his abilities to progress as a football player, but have instead helped him find a mental balance that benefits his game.
“I just grab (everything) by its horns. I have goals and I want to achieve them,” Williams said. “I have a great family behind me and great coaches behind me, and academic coaches. I just make sure I have all my time scheduled, and when the season starts I’ll have time to go to class after practice and do my academics.
“It’s no different being focused in your playbook just the same way you have to be focused in a Calc-3 textbook,” he added. “It’s just focus and discipline; you have to have those in both school and on the football field.”
As the Sun Devils continue to apply the finishing touches to a team looking to bounce back to Pac-12 contention, Williams’ humble mentality and ambitious goals are keeping him sharp for whatever opportunity is throw his way.
“I’ve been getting better every day, just trying to perfect my craft,” Williams said. “(I’m trying) to establish myself as a player on this team that can make plays.”
With an uncommon blend of athletic ability, discipline in the classroom, and ever-present humbleness, Williams has all the ingredients needed to become not only a playmaking member of this year’s Sun Devil squad, but a stand-out leader to guide them for years to come.
Other Thursday Practice Notes:
–As has been standard this week, the Sun Devils ran through ball security, tempo, and special teams drills on Thursday before breaking into 11-on-11 play. With a focus on play-action passing, the full team scrimmage’s most intriguing play came when first-team quarterback Manny Wilkins targeted wide receiver John Humphrey with a deep ball on a play-action pass.
Running a post route, Humphrey had to slow down to stay with the under-thrown ball. Sophomore cornerback Kobe Williams reacted too early in coverage, grabbing Humphrey before the ball arrived to draw a pass interference penalty.
-The battle for starting defensive tackle saw a shakeup Thursday. Sophomore George Lea not only returned to first-team action, but brought down running back Demario Richard for a loss during the 11-on-11 period. Earlier this week, true freshman Shannon Forman had been garnering starters reps, but was forced to settle for snaps with the backups thanks to Lea’s reinstatement at the top of the depth chart.
Senior A.J. Latu has also seen time with on the defensive line this preseason, but remains sidelined with an arm injury he suffered at Camp Tontozona last week.
-While the interior third of the defensive line remains up in the air, the two returning starters at defensive end received much praise from their head coach after another strong practice Thursday.
Speaking of veteran linemen JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood, Graham said this year’s group up front has the makings of being the best one he has ever coached at ASU.
“I think the most disruptive guy we have up front is (Smallwood),” Graham said of his senior. “He’s had an unbelievable camp. We’re adapting and letting him turn loose on some things.
“Obviously JoJo and Tashon, as well Crump, (who) might be as fast as any edge guy in the country,” Graham said as reasons for his excitement about his pass-rushers this year.