By Phil Chardis
Assistant Director Athletic Communications
Late in the third quarter of UConn's football season opener against Massachusetts, Husky defensive end Trevardo Williams made a strong move to beat his blocker and broke into the clear, only to find the play moving in the opposite direction and UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn already rolling away from him.
Covering a long distance in a short period of time, however, has never been a problem for Williams.
The UConn senior revved up his jets, chased down Wegzyn from behind, and tackled him for an eight-yard loss, one of many outstanding defensive plays by the Husky defense in a convincing 37-0 victory.
"The defense - we all were focused tonight, we all were on the same page," Williams said. "We watched a lot of film and we came here to execute and did what our game plan was. We were enjoying the game. We know we have to keep improving, but it couldn't have gone much better."
The sack was the first of the season for Williams, who led the BIG EAST with 12.5 of them last year, and the 20th of his career, sixth on the all-time UConn list.
"I wanted a sack so badly tonight," Williams said afterward with a smile. "I had been hustling the whole night, but I was getting no results. On that play, I was really pushing to get it. I came off the edge, I beat the man clean, and then it was up to me to finish it. Yeah, I was a long way from the quarterback, and I felt I had to sprint to get into the play."
Williams, 21, has built himself up to an amazingly-strong 233 pounds spread over his 6-foot-2 frame, but he still possesses the sprinter's speed that earned him a second place in the 100-meter dash at the New England Open Track Meet while in high school. His time in the 40 is now somewhere around 4.4 seconds, a number that many running backs would envy.
The combination of strength and speed is devastating --- especially for opposing quarterbacks. Early in his career, Williams realized he would need both in order to be successful at his position.
"I didn't know about football at this level, but when I started playing, I knew I had to improve my size and strength because I saw the other people playing my position," he said. "I'd noticed throughout the years that weight was a problem (too light), so I realized that improving my technique and my fundamentals was what was going to save me. So I just practice it, condition it, and see what I can do with it."
What he's done with it so far has been awfully impressive, especially considering that he didn't begin began playing football until he reached Bridgeport (Conn.) Central High School.
"I didn't start playing football until my freshman year," said Williams, who was 10 years old when his family moved to Connecticut from Jamaica. "My friend told me about it and told me I would look good as a football player. So I tried out and it worked out. I played tight end and defensive line. They told me to just play D and have fun."
An All-State and two-time All-Conference selection, Williams prepped for a year at Canterbury School in New Milford before fulfilling his dream of coming to UConn. He saw action in all 13 games as a freshman in 2009 and has done nothing but improve as a player since, not only physically, but on the mental aspect of the game as well.
"I feel like I've learned a lot since I've been here," Williams said. "I've learned about offensive formations, reading and understanding them. It's a lot more technical ... angles, offensive schemes ... just the approach to the game is totally different compared to high school.
"You have to think a lot more, you have to understand the play before you actually go on to the line - look at the formation, and recognize what play they could run out of that formation. That's the fun part ... once you realize what they could run, you think, `All right, these are the two options I have. So, if I mess up on this, at least I have this other one.' "
His 12.5 sacks last season not only led the BIG EAST, but ranked him fifth in the country. His average of 1.04 sacks per game ranked him second in the nation behind only Whitney Mercilus of Illinois (1.23). He had 43 total tackles last year, 15 tackles for loss as he earned Second Team All-BIG EAST honors.
This year, Williams has been named to the preseason watch lists of three major national awards --- the Bednarik Award (best defensive player), the Lombardi Award (best lineman), and the Nagurski Award (best defensive player). His sack against UMass places him just seven shy of UConn's all-time record of 27, set by Mark Michaels (1982-85). He also has a career total of 28.5 tackles for loss and should easily finish among the top 10 in that category as well.
"I don't think about numbers or records or things like that," Williams said. "I'm just thinking about improving myself. Everything else will come. I'm just focusing on bettering myself and achieving something for myself."
Ironically, Williams' rapid improvement may have made it harder to pile up impressive stats. Opposing offensive coordinators don't miss much on film and Trevardo has noticed plays changed at the line to stay away from him.
"Tonight, I realized every time they see me and Sio (Moore) on the edge, they are keying us and stretching the play to the other end," Williams explained after the UMass game. "So, it made it a little more difficult for me to use my talent and get back there because the play is going in the other direction."
It stands to reason that Williams will see a lot more offensive plays attempting to avoid him this season --- notoriety has its downside.
"I hope the other teams will respect me as an athlete and say, `Hey, we can take this guy on,' and give me a chance to make plays, instead of running away," he said. "I'd rather they showed some respect for the game and said, `Hey, I believe my player can take him on,' and then see what happens."
Or, they could ask UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn how that worked out.