Demorrio Williams hides behind defensive linemen so his talent can’t hide anymore.
Williams, a wiry senior linebacker who leads Nebraska in tackles, sacks and tackles for losses, has blitzed out of several shadows.
“From sideline to sideline he’s the fastest player out there,” Nebraska defensive end Trevor Johnson said.
Williams was an All-District safety in high school in pint-sized Beckville, Texas, but no colleges recruited him. At 160 pounds, he wasn’t big enough.
He tried community college but quit after two weeks. For a year, he worked 12-hour days welding and laying pipes in oil fields. Finally, he found a place to play at nearby Kilgore (Texas) Junior College. He had 130 tackles as a freshman and was All-American for two years.
Missouri free safety Nino Williams II played against Williams in junior college. Nino Williams said Williams, who is 6 feet 1, 210 pounds, dominated in junior college in the same way he does in the Big 12 Conference.
“He’s a little man playing a big position, but his heart takes over a lot of size that he doesn’t have,” Nino Williams II said.
When assistant coach Turner Gill recruited Demorrio Williams, he was thrilled to go to a big-time football school. His first year with the Huskers was their worst in 41 years (7-7), and he split time with senior T.J. Hollowell at outside linebacker.
Despite his cramped playing time, Williams led Nebraska with 92 tackles.
In the offseason, Johnson and Williams talked. Williams told Johnson he had been watching tape from his junior season and he couldn’t believe how poorly he had played.
“The whole team feels like that (about their play),” Johnson told Williams.
Williams said last season, Nebraska players and coaches did not have the right attitude to win games.
“A lot of players believe in what’s going on right now,” Williams said. “Last year I feel like they didn’t. I feel like the whole team, the coaching staff and everybody, is working together.”
Last season, Williams relied on his speed to make plays and had to evade offensive linemen who had 100 pounds on him.
In the spring, though, new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini moved Williams to weakside linebacker and also began to play him at rush end, which is like an additional defensive end.
“We just wanted to make sure we found the right spot for him,” Pelini said. “He’s a playmaker for us.”
Williams starts a few steps back from the line and leaves the Huskers’ defensive line to deal with the larger offensive linemen.
“The D-linemen hold the guys up for me to run around and make plays,” Williams said. “I just try to give it all I got to make something happen for the team.”
This season Williams averages 9.6 tackles per game, ahead of his average of 6 1/2 a year ago. He has eight tackles for losses and 5 1/2 sacks.
Along with quarterback Jammal Lord and fullback Judd Davies, Williams and Johnson are captains. Johnson said as a captain, Williams motivates his teammates inside the huddle and is vocal on the field.
“If you’re going to lead with your mouth, you have to back it up, and he backs it up big time,” Johnson said.
The limelight is not too bright for Williams. The Huskers are 5-0 and lead the nation in total defense, and he is a candidate for the Butkus and Lombardi Awards.
“That’s my thing, I don’t want to be a follower,” Williams said. “I want to step up and say, ‘Come on men, we can do this.”’