March 28, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Honest, candid and gregarious, Florida State sophomore safety Karlos Williams spoke with the media for the first time as a Seminole Wednesday afternoon.
After a highlight-reel high school career that saw him earn five-star recruiting rankings, a social-media cult following and a string of Youtube clips that left big-hit addicts drooling, Williams' limited opportunities on defense in 2011 and his growing legend as a kick returner coupled with rumors of a potential position change made him one of the most anticipated spring-time interviews on FSU's football team.
Because Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher restricts freshmen and transfers from speaking to the media during their respective first seasons in Tallahassee, Williams hadn't had a chance to publicly comment on any of those talking points prior to his lunchtime interview session.
LEARNING THE PLAYBOOK TO FIGHTING FOR A STARTING JOB
As one of the nation's top high school prospects -- the kind that fans pencil into a starting position before they ever step foot on campus -- the expectations for the 6-foot-2, 229-pound safety were quite lofty before he enrolled in classes.
Even though FSU had a senior starter in Terrance Parks and a veteran backup in fourth-year junior Nick Moody at safety in 2011, Williams still expected to contribute more than the 40 defensive plays he wound up taking part in as a rookie.
"Honestly, it was hard," Williams told Seminoles.com before he met with the rest of the local media. "Being a five-star, you expect to come in and play right away, contribute ... but it's a humbling situation. You come in and you're like, ' I don't know nothing. I know nothing about college football. I know nothing in the playbook. I have to learn it in order to play.'
"That definitely did a lot for me. I understand that now and I'm just going to move on from there. I know the playbook now and it's just going to help competing for a job in the spring."
Williams reiterated to the gathered media inside FSU's Moore Athletic Center that he had to learn firsthand the importance of understanding defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mark Stoops' complex schemes if he wanted to contribute more as a sophomore and begin to live up to those lofty expectations.
"I understand now it's a business and you have to know the playbook in order to play," Williams said. "I feel like I could have played my freshman year but now that I look back on it I didn't learn the playbook fast enough. I wasn't mature enough to handle the responsibilities of being the starter or the second string and to play that much.
"But now since I've been here a year I know now that the playbook is the most important and I've got to learn that in order to play."
In his first spring camp as a Seminole and with Parks working towards an NFL roster and Moody now at linebacker, Williams is getting a chance to compete with junior Terrence Brooks for a starting job.
Through the first week-and-a-half of practices, Williams is running with the second team and in position for a much larger role this fall -- one that will surely seem him contribute more than 40 plays. He has also bounced back from the broken wrist he sustained while tackling Florida's Chris Rainey in FSU's win against the Gators last fall -- a setback that also sidelined him for the 'Noles' bowl game.
"It's exciting going out there and competing for a job against Terrence Brooks, whose an amazing safety," Williams said. "He's going with the [first team] and I understand the situation I am going into with that. But also just exciting to just be back on the field and be able to compete. Missing the rest of the Florida game and the bowl game just being back in full pads, making contact, running around making plays."
He didn't factor into FSU's fourth-ranked defense in 2011 but that didn't mean Williams wasn't a contributor to the team as a whole.
Fans and opposing coaches quickly learned about his world-class speed and ability with the football in his hands -- traits that don't seem appropriate for someone of his natural size and build -- on kick returns.
Williams also used his ability as a big hitter to affect special teams in coverage and in setting up blocks for his fellow returners.
"It was a big thing," Wiliams said. "Just being on the field, running out on to the field in Doak Campbell Stadium knowing that I can be a part of pumping up the crowd, making a tackle on special teams, making a block that made a seam for Greg Reid to score a touchdown.
"It was just an amazing, exciting feeling."
ALMOST A RUNNING BACK?
One of the hottest topics around FSU's offseason was Williams' potential switch to running back. Rumors ran rampant following Florida State's bowl win that the rising sophomore's speed and ability would be better suited for life on the offensive side of the ball.
Jimbo Fisher's late-February announcement that Cameron Erving and Dan Hicks were the only defensive players switching sides effectively ended that rumor. But Williams hadn't yet had the chance to comment on the possibility of such a newsworthy move.
So, how close was he to becoming another weapon in the Seminoles' stable of tailbacks?
"It was real. Me and coach [Fisher] talked about it," Williams said. "... Myself, I was a little hesitant because learning a defense such as [Mark] Stoops' is very difficult. ... I know the running back position to [Fisher] and coach Gran is very important on offense.
"I felt I would be more comfortable and I would make more plays at safety."
Unlike most freshmen, Williams had a built-in support system when he arrived in Tallahassee last summer.
Already a veteran on the team, linebacker Vince Williams was around to help his younger brother get acclimated to his new life away from home.
"My brother is like a father away from home," Karlos Williams said. "He really taught me how to be a man once I got to college. It is definitely a different world here. He taught me how to deal with things outside of football; school, women, your religion definitely -- trying to find a church to go to -- who to talk to, who not to talk to, the guys you surround yourself with."
With his increasing role on defense, and Vince Williams' spot at middle linebacker, the 2012 season may provide the final chance for the two brothers to play alongside one another consistently on Saturdays.
"We feed off each other's energy," Karlos Williams said. "Now in spring he's battling with Telvin [Smith] and me battling with Brooks we go with ones and twos, we both rotate back and forth and we are on the field together. It's insane. We communicate by body language, eye contact, words -- I pump him up, he pumps me up -- it's a competition."