Antwione Williams has a lot on his Georgia Southern resume.
He recorded a career-high nine tackles against Alabama as a freshman in 2011.
He started six ballgames as an underclassman in 2011 and 2012, and he has four tackles for loss. Standing at 6-foot-3, 240-pounds, he looks more like a defensive lineman than an outside linebacker.
Had everything gone his way, he probably would have started in Georgia Southern’s historic win at Florida last season and maybe even would have been in line for a handful of All-Southern Conference honors.
But he tore his tricep in preseason camp and never even got to see the field in 2013.
“It was hard. For one, it was a long recovery. But getting hurt at the beginning of the season, knowing that you’d have had a good shot at starting the year at linebacker for Georgia Southern, it really hurt,” Williams said.
But Williams played right away as a freshman in 2011, so he had a redshirt season available and still has two years of eligibility. It took roughly five months to recover from the injury, but as Williams watched practice each day in 2013, he got to think about how his best two years of football are still ahead.
“It was surreal,” Williams said about redshirting during his third year in the program. “You get more of an appreciation for the game, and you learn how much you miss it when it’s gone. Now every time I’m out here, I know I’ve got to make the most of every opportunity I have, because there really aren't that many.”
Williams also matured during his recovery — something first-year GSU head coach Willie Fritz noticed right away.
“You always enjoy coaching guys you can have an adult conversation with,” Fritz said about Williams. “He’s got very good leadership qualities, he shows some real athletic ability and he’s a lot of fun to have around every day.”
GSU linebackers coach Michael Mutz, who coached with Fritz at Sam Houston State in 2013, is glad to have Williams as one of his outside linebackers. Because of Williams’ frame and skill set, moving him to defensive end was a distinct possibility.
Instead, the coaching staff chose to leave Williams at linebacker and move Quan Daniels from linebacker to the end.
Williams is still expected to factor into the Eagles’ pass rush.
“He has a really diverse skill set. Because of his size and his length and his intelligence, he can do so many things,” Mutz said. “We’re going to ask him to do a lot next year, and he’s going to be able to handle it fine.”
Mutz, who first learned about Georgia Southern when it won its fourth Division I-AA national title in 1990 against Nevada, began coaching in 1998, when the Eagles were back at the top of the division under Paul Johnson.
“They were the standard,” he said about GSU. “I’m still pinching myself every day to make sure this isn’t a dream. It’s an incredible experience being here. We’ve been embraced, people love Eagle football, and it’s wonderful to work for a place where people care.”
Mutz and Williams are on the same page when it comes to taking the program to the next level as GSU joins the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference next season.
“I looked at Paulson Stadium when I got here, and the new Football Operations Center,” Mutz said, “and I thought, ‘This place is ready to launch into a new stratosphere.’”
“We’re moving up to compete,” Williams said. “We’re not moving up to transition. Transition isn't our goal. Our goal is to win the Sun Belt as soon as we get there.”
Mutz sees similar things for Williams’ future at GSU.
“Our whole staff is expecting him to have a breakout junior year for us,” Mutz said.
Georgia Southern returns to practice today at 4:15 p.m., at Beautiful Eagle Creek.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.