SEATTLE – The thing that has most impressed University of Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier about freshman phenom Kasen Williams is not the way the 6-foot-2 wide receiver is able to effortlessly spring over defenders and get his hands on seemingly uncatchable passes.
It’s not the way he can take a swing pass, shimmy his hips and leave defenders grasping for air. Or the way he bounces off press coverage like the defending cornerback is made of paper mache.
It’s that Williams knows his amazing athleticism can only take him so far, and he’s trying like mad to become a complete player.
“Being that athletic makes up for a lot,” Nussmeier said this week. “But he’s a very conscientious, hard-working guy. He studies, and he prepares, and that’s what gives him a chance to use his athleticism.”
Of course, Nussmeier gets to spend extensive time with Williams and the rest of the UW offense. It’s those casual observers that have shown up for a training camp practice this fall that have taken in the most obvious first impression of the freshman wideout from Sammamish, Wash.
It was apparent when Williams skied over a helpless defensive back in the back of the end zone to catch a pass at Tuesday’s informal scrimmage. When he ran a sideline pattern and stole a sure interception away from a defender by jumping over him and wrestling the ball away. The countless times he’s stopped on a dime and cut away from a defenseless cornerback during 7-on-7 passing drills.
“He makes plays every day when I’m like: ‘Oh, my goodness,’ ” starting quarterback Keith Price said. “He’s a great athlete.”
There’s a theory going around at UW camp that if a gasp rumbles through the crowd, there’s a pretty good chance Kasen Williams just made a play.
“One of the first days, he caught a long fade ball – a jump ball – and you could just see what he’s going to be doing in the season for us,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “He’s been doing it ever since then. He’s consistent with those jump balls. He’s going to be a great player for us.”
The play that seemed to generate the most adulation came during Tuesday’s scrimmage, when Williams rose up like he’d been shot out of a cannon and plucked a Nick Montana pass that looked to be about 10 to 12 feet off the ground.
“It’s crazy,” Montana said two days later, still marveling at the play. “He high-jumps like seven feet or something, so I don’t think it’s ever out of reach. You just throw it up there, and he goes up and grabs it. It’s pretty amazing.”
What was most amazing is that Williams appeared so effortless on his leap.
“He came back to the sideline saying, ‘I can go up another level, too. I wasn’t warmed up,’ ” Price said with a big smile. “I’m not even used to lobbing passes up that high.”
It’s a pretty safe assumption that Williams gets most of his athleticism from his father, Aaron, who once held a state record in the triple jump and went on to play wide receiver at UW.
Williams, who played in four state title games and was named Parade Magazine’s national player of the year after his senior season, won the State 4A high jump, long jump and triple jump titles in the spring. He cleared 6-foot-10 in the high jump, making him one of only three athletes in the state to go above 6-4 at the state meet.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian has gushed about Williams’s playmaking all camp. What speaks even louder is Sarkisian’s insistence on working Williams with the No. 1 offense. The freshman has probably had more reps with the first-stringers than senior Devin Aguilar, a two-year starter.
“I marvel at some of his plays, just like everybody else,” Sarkisian said. “That’s the beauty of having a great athlete that can make those plays. I know it’s a great luxury for a quarterback to have a receiver with that kind of playmaking ability.”