ATHENS -- Shawn Williams didn’t used to be this way. Or at least he didn’t show it. As recently as last year, he was still known as the soft-spoken kid from a small south Georgia town.
Then came the Vanderbilt “incident.” There were also plenty of big hits and an occasional penalty. Not to mention some bulletin-board quotes.
Williams can still be a bit shy off the field. But this season has shown that the Georgia junior safety is pretty brash when it comes to football.
“That’s what people say. If you meet me I’m just a quiet person,” Williams said. “But on the field I’m the kind of guy to have an attitude about yourself.”
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The Bulldogs don’t appear to mind it.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is the face of the defense. Safety Bacarri Rambo, like Jones, was also an All-American. But Williams, who ranks second on the team in tackles and had three interceptions, is perhaps the heart of the nation’s third-ranked defense.
“He’s very passionate when he plays,” junior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “Sometimes you’ve gotta calm him down, he gets so excited. But you never are worried about him not caring. He always is giving his all. You know he’s playing for you, playing for the guy next to you. You just gotta keep it all together, and I think maybe he knows that the Vanderbilt game got maybe a little out of control.”
Oh yes, the Vanderbilt game.
Williams’ antics led to a brouhaha between Commodores head coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Williams was suspended for the first half of the following game, but Grantham smiled this week when Williams’ swagger was brought up, particularly the Vanderbilt incident.
“I like the way he plays,” Grantham said, grinning coyly.
At the Georgia football complex, there’s a running loop of television highlights from this season. One of them is from the game against Georgia Tech, when Williams made a diving interception. But the highlight cuts off once Williams hits the ground, rather than showing what comes next: Williams getting flagged 15 yards for celebrating.
But Georgia will tolerate an occasional flare-up from Williams, because of what else he can do. Besides, most of the other defensive players (especially Jones) prefer not to be flashy, so Williams fills a gap.
“Guys like that help,” Grantahm said. “You’ve got to have guys that have a little swagger to them. I think the guy plays hard. He’s aggressive. And you want guys that play defense the way he plays.”
Williams also hasn’t been shy about himself and his teammates. He has twice raised eyebrows by saying Georgia’s defense was just as good or better than the units at LSU and Alabama. And asked to summarize his junior season, Williams called it “great” and rattled off his stats.
Another point for Williams. Georgia had been looking for a hard-hitting safety, in the mold of Thomas Davis, and Williams is filling it.
“He put fear in a lot of receiver’s hearts,” senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “He was known as a big hitter and somebody who was gonna bring the wood, I guess you could say. Him not making a (postseason) team, I guess you could say that would motivate him for next year to try to be better and try to correct things that he needs to get better at. But he knows that he’s a good player, and everybody else does too.”
Williams has also moved into a mentoring role. Grantham said he has noticed Williams coaching up freshman Corey Moore, who has played sparingly this year, but could have a chance to start next year if Rambo elects to go pro.
Actually, Williams has the option of entering the NFL draft, too, and he was vague when asked if he was thinking about it.
“It crossed my mind,” he said. “But hopefully one day I’ll get there.”
That may have seemed far-fetched a year ago. But not anymore.
“Rambo had a lot of picks and Sanders (Commings) and Boykin were really knock-down,” Robinson said. “But Shawn is probably one of the most physical safeties in our league, and he doesn’t get enough credit.”