SEATTLE – Cameron Williams finished the game.
UW’s 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore safety entered last Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against Cal with a left hand injury, then injured the other hand on a play in the second quarter. After it was over, Husky head coach Jimmy Lake likened Williams to a boxer – with both hands wrapped in tape, persevering through pain.
“It was painful, for sure,” Williams said on Wednesday. “But I just told myself, ‘Just finish this game and go in the locker room and do what you have to do to get it better.’ I told myself I had to finish the game. I’m finishing the game no matter what.”
So, on the edge of the end zone, Williams finished the game.
Trailing 31-24 on the second possession of overtime, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers took a handoff at the Husky 2-yard line and tossed the ball to 220-pound running back Damien Moore. Williams said he “saw a puller, and I didn’t want to overrun it. So I just stayed in my lane and I met him at the hole, put my shoulder down and the ball came out.”
With two hurting hands and 20 fewer pounds, Williams lowered his right shoulder and hit Moore, forcing a fumble that outside linebacker Ryan Bowman recovered to instantly end the game.
When asked if the hand injuries affected his tackling form, Williams said: “A little bit. But it’s a mindset. I just have to get the man down any way. If he’s down, it’s a victory for us and it’s good for me.”
Moore went down, and Williams went crazy, pumping his swollen fists as Bowman held the ball.
“That’s all I was thinking: just happiness, excitement, going crazy, yelling as loud as I could,” said Williams, who has previously played through injuries to his collarbone, AC joint and pinky.
He finished with four tackles and the forced fumble, receiving a game ball in a raucous locker room.
“This is part of football,” Lake said this week. “You’re never going to feel 100% healthy. It’s not only his hands that are hurting, there’s other parts of his body that are hurting as well. For him to go in there in a huge situation and plow his shoulder into the running back and pop that ball loose was just a really good example of showing grit and perseverance. Hopefully, we just keep getting him more healthy so he can use more of his hands. But just an extraordinarily tough play by Cam Williams.”
“I think that starts with the young man himself,” assistant defensive backs coach Terrence Brown said. “He’s bought into the coaching that’s been done here for years, and I think he was just prepared for that moment.”
Williams may not have always been that way. When he arrived at Washington as an early enrollee in 2019, the former Bakersfield (California) High School standout instantly shot to the top of the depth chart – earning a starting spot in his first fall at UW.
But though he tallied 32 tackles and three interceptions that season, there were assignment errors and tackling issues as well.
“I wasn’t playing like me,” said Williams, who started seven games but received a midseason demotion. “I wasn’t myself. I couldn’t really get comfortable. I couldn’t get that rhythm going. But at the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do for the team, play your role and just come out victorious each week.”
“Cam is a better player than he was as a true freshman, but we’re always pushing all of our players to reach new levels,” Lake said. “Cam is reaching new levels, but there’s still more room to grow. He has a huge ceiling to get even better and to be more on top of the details.
“I think he’s learned a lot. I’m very proud of him, that he’s battled through being the starter, being not the starter, being the starter again. I’m sure he’s learning now that he’s got to make sure he crosses the T’s and dots the I’s and is on top of everything to remain in that seat.”
Williams – who regained his starting spot against Cal and Arkansas State – is not a finished product, and his left hand was still wrapped after Wednesday’s practice.
To return to the boxing theme, he’s taken body shots, but Williams is determined to finish the fight.
“Cam has definitely taken steps in the right direction in terms of growing, becoming more of a veteran in the back end in terms of his intellect, his knowledge, his understanding of the game,” Brown said. “He’s always either in my office or (defensive backs coach Will) Harris’ office, asking questions, watching film, trying to get a step ahead of his opponents and really trying to grow as a player.”
This particular opponent also packs quite a punch. In a 45-27 win at USC last week, Oregon State rushed for 322 yards with 6.3 yards per carry and a pair of rushing scores, while quarterback Chance Nolan threw for four touchdowns. Through four games, the 3-1 Beavers rank 12th nationally in yards per carry (5.75), 12th in rushes of 10 yards or more (30), 13th in rushing touchdowns (12), 17th in rushing offense (225.8 yards per game) and 24th in total offense (473.3 yards per game).
If they meet in the hole, don’t expect Beavers running back B.J. Baylor to back down on Saturday night.
But Williams is built for this.
“You know, honestly, I think I’ve seen it done (defensive backs playing with two injured hands) more often than people would believe,” Brown said. “But he really showcased himself, being able to be mentally tough. At the end of the day, just go out there and play ball. I think that’s what we take pride in in the recruiting process, finding those guys that are mentally tough. He’s one of those guys that is mentally tough. It allows him just to play the game how he knows how to play it.”
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