Sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Williams doesn’t want to become a cautionary tale.
It can be a long, slow climb to the top of the hill. But the tumble back to the bottom can be breathtakingly fast.
After 14 practices in the spring with the University of Wisconsin football team, Williams was as good a bet as anyone to emerge from the crowded group of young receivers and start opposite junior Jared Abbrederis.
Then came two things:
Williams struggled in the first half of the spring game, dropping two potential touchdown passes that resulted in a battlefield demotion at halftime — being taken off the Cardinal team and being placed with the White (reserves) in the second half.
He also was one of two players left off the 105-player roster at the start of preseason camp, apparently due to their involvement in a fight that preceded the attack on senior running back Montee Ball. Sophomore linebacker Cody Byers was the other player and has also since returned.
UW coach Bret Bielema has said he disciplined two players for the fight but has not provided any more details.
Williams declined to comment on his role in the fight, citing what he said was an ongoing police investigation. He missed the first week and a half of camp, working out on his own and with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert before joining his teammates on Wednesday.
“It was definitely hard to be apart,” Williams said. “I’ve been with these boys all year, since January, when this thing (season) started. I’ve been trying to get back. It was hard, it was a struggle, but now that I’m back, I’m happy, I’m healthy and I’m ready to go.”
It may not always seem like it to the players, but things move at a breakneck pace during camp. Missing 12 practices for Williams was an eternity. His first day in full pads will be Monday, less than two weeks before the opener against Northern Iowa.
One positive sign for Williams is how he battled back in the second half of the spring game, after Bielema and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni tore into him at halftime. Williams finished with a team-high five catches for 53 yards.
“During halftime, coach B jumped on me, coach Z jumped on me, that’s not how I had been playing the whole spring,” Williams said. “I guess I would call it the jitters.”
“At times, everyone faces adversity,” he added. “It’s how you come on top of it. That second half, I came out and did what I had to do. I was proud of myself, because that’s a hard thing to do.”
Now, it’s up to Williams to show he can be counted on and work his way back into a competitive playing rotation. Redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick is the leading candidate for the open starting job.
Junior Jeff Duckworth, who has the most experience after Abbrederis, will likely be part of the rotation. The coaches also seem to have a role for sophomore Kenzel Doe in the slot in three-receiver formations.
That could leave only one or two spots among junior Manasseh Garner, redshirt freshman A.J. Jordan, sophomore Chase Hammond and Williams.
“The one thing (Williams) has got right now is fresh legs, he’s kind of going at a different rate than everybody else,” Bielema said.
Said Williams: “I believe there’s still a good opportunity. I just have to work hard and make up for the things I missed. That’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort, but I’m ready to do it and I’m willing to do anything, by any means necessary.”
Williams, 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, from Miami, played mostly strong safety while growing up. The thing that impressed Azzanni the most in the spring was how Williams “plays with a hard edge.”
“I definitely still have a defensive mentality,” Williams said. “I have the same mentality I had since being a kid and I’m going forward with it.
“I’m not the type of guy that makes a move and tries to get away from you. I’m the guy who catches the ball and if you’re in my way, I’m coming at you.”