Williams: from jeers to cheers

Spokane Shock's Travis Williams, left, can't do anything to stop Utah's Chris Francies from hauling in an early pass for a touchdown Saturday, May 22, 2010 at the Spokane Arena. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Shock's Travis Williams, left, can't do anything to stop Utah's Chris Francies from hauling in an early pass for a touchdown Saturday, May 22, 2010 at the Spokane Arena. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Back with a feature on Shock defensive back Travis Williams, who was blistered by fans early this season when he got off to a slow start. The resilient Williams has emerged as a key player on Spokane's defense, which ranks as one of the best in the AFL.

You can read my unedited feature on Williams below.

Also, the Shock, as expected, activated WR Markee White from injured-reserve. More here.

By Jim Meehan, (208) 765-7131

Spokane Shock defensive back Travis Williams didn’t have to read fans’ minds after he struggled early in the 2010 Arena Football League season.

Fans freely expressed what they thought of Williams’ performance with verbal taunts from the stands and unsigned screeds posted on message boards.

“The worst one I heard was probably something about, ‘If you want to score, just throw it at No. 12,” Williams said.

Perhaps he didn’t see this one, authored by Shock117 as it appeared on the Shock’s official message board after fan favorite Kevin McCullough was traded to Oklahoma City in early June: “WOW! I have always liked (head coach Rob) Keefe and he has done a great job, but WOW! I dont understand keeping Williams and letting the chainsaw go. I hope Keefe has something up his sleeve, this could definately come back to haunt him.”


Funny thing is, by that point of the season Williams had become a mainstay in the secondary. Now, with the Shock riding a nine-game winning streak and positioned to stay at home in the playoffs, Williams is still a topic people love to bring up.


Only it’s for different reasons.


“I had a couple of coaches call me and say they’re going to vote for him as defensive rookie of the year,” said Keefe, and that was before Williams’ game-winning interception and touchdown return in Cleveland on Saturday. “You hear things like, ‘Keefe didn’t get burned like that.’ I didn’t play that position. I couldn’t play that position. I’m glad the fans are starting to rally around him.”

Williams readily admits his season started with a speed bump in the opener against Milwaukee. In his first AFL game, Williams was victimized for several touchdowns by veteran quarterback Chris Greisen and his stable of talented receivers.

In the rematch three weeks ago, Williams had one of Spokane’s two interceptions and the Shock rolled to a 62-48 win.

“You kind of get used to things,” Williams said. “That first game we weren’t in sync as a defense and we didn’t trust each other. We just started believing. If coach tells us a certain defense, we’re going to play it to the best of our ability. We just believe in the system.”

And Williams believes in himself. It’s a trait successful defensive backs must possess because even the best get beat on occasion. Add in the fact that Williams plays middle DB in a pass-friendly league, where motion receivers benefit from a 10-yard head start, and the odds are stacked against the defender.

“It just takes a fearless attitude,” Williams said. “So much can happen in a split-second with a guy running full speed at you. It’s a lot of pressure every play. In the outdoor game, you might have a run or sweep the other way and you just cover backside. In this game, you have to stay on your toes. I’ve learned from the first game to embrace everything.”

Williams was forced to learn on the fly. He sat out the second game against Utah, but hasn’t missed a game since. His six interceptions and 13 pass break-ups lead the team. Only Jacksonville’s defense allows fewer yards per game than Spokane’s.

“People have seen our players succeed at that position, but I think they always remember what they did at the end of the season,” Keefe said. “I think they forget how the beginning of the season went. Isaiah (Trufant) struggled, Johnny Lamar, Stanley Franks, Alex Teems struggled.”

Williams converts criticism into motivation.

“Reading that stuff, it makes me stronger,” he said. “I’m used to the criticism. I hear it, but one thing in life: you have a chance to do something about it or you can just fold. I try to get better every day.”

Williams pointed at a tattoo on his neck: Against All Odds. He got it in 2006 after a stellar freshman season where he earned All-Conference USA honors as a punt returner.

“I eclipsed a lot of records and I came back for my sophomore year and they made me compete for the job,” he said. “I felt like that was a slap in the face, so I went and got the tattoo. Never been a back-up since.”

After a brief stint in training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Williams spent three weeks of the 2009 arenafootball2 season with the Arkansas Twisters. Joining Spokane for its inaugural AFL season brought another set of challenges.

“All of the receivers are good – big, strong fast,” he said. “Before I got to the arena game, I kind of looked down on this game, but a lot of guys can’t play this game. It takes a lot of talent, heart and will. I really appreciate it now.”


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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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