Injuries are just another opportunity for success, Eastern Washington head football coach Beau Baldwin likes to say.
So when opportunity came pounding at the Eagles’ door earlier this season, who better to answer than Grant Williams?
Sixth man … 12th man … it all adds up to 18, which happens to be Williams’ uniform number.
The senior linebacker has answered the call for three straight seasons, which is harder than it sounds when no two linebacker positions are quite the same.
Williams started the season third on the depth chart at weak-outside ’backer, but also filled in at the “sam,” or strong-inside position.
“He’s not a backup, he’s a starter,” Eastern linebacker coach Josh Fetter said. “He’s getting as many snaps as a starter and he’s playing the best ball of his career.”
Former All-American Zach Johnson was sidelined for six weeks to a hamstring injury, while J.C. Agen suffered a torn pectoral muscle and was eventually lost for the season. Cody McCarthy was also hurt for much of midseason, stressing the Eagles’ depth to the breaking point.
“We were running on fumes,” Fetter recalled.
Williams was simply running a little harder, prepping for both positions on the practice field and in the film room.
“I just make sure that I’m always ready,” said Williams, a 6-foot-1, 225-pounder from Puyallup, Wash. “It’s means extra work during practice; you have to take more reps, and more mental reps, get in the film room and understand what you’re trying to do.”
For the season, Williams ranks third in total tackles with 70. He recorded 13 in the Eagles’ biggest win of the season at second-ranked Montana State, and 12 against Sacramento State.
“It’s been kind of cool to say that I’ve left a big mark on what the team has done and the success of the team,” Williams said – just what Baldwin has in mind when any starter goes down.
“Let’s not hang our heads, let’s get excited for the next guy who’s going to step in,” Baldwin said. “Grant has been instrumental in those situations, even going back to the national title game two years ago.
“It’s a coach’s dream to have a player like Grant who can handle it mentally.”
He’s been doing that for years. An all-state linebacker at Rogers of Puyallup, Williams picked Eastern “because I love the players here.”
Once in Cheney, Williams said he had to adjust to the faster pace of the college game. “In high school you can get away with stuff, but not here,” he said.
After redshirting in 2008 and seeing spot duty at fullback and special teams, he was switched to defense.
Williams saw action in the FCS championship win over Delaware in 2010. Last year he finished with 60 tackles, including a game-high 19 in EWU’s 53-51 triple-overtime victory over Cal Poly.
“Obviously, it’s more difficult than focusing on one position,” Fetter said. “But Grant is one of the few players that I have who can handle both positions equally as well.”
It doesn’t hurt that Williams is an all-academic Big Sky selection three years running.
The Eagles are healthy again entering Saturday’s second-round FCS playoff game against Wagner, but Williams will see plenty of action, possibly at both positions.
“It feels great, and to get a shot as senior you want to go out on top,” said Williams.
“I was a backup at the time some things went wrong and I got a shot to play and made the most of it.”
Tickets still available
About 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s second-round FCS game against Wagner, with more than 2,000 student tickets already picked up, so it will be a very good crowd. Tickets may be purchased at TicketsWest outlets or (509) 359-6059. Remaining tickets available will go on sale at 9 a.m. Saturday at Roos Field, with gates opening at 1 p.m.