August 20, 2002
WINSTON-SALEM - The entire 2001 season was a breakthrough for most of the Wake Forest football team, as a new coaching staff helped the Deacons rebound from a 2-9 record to go 6-5.
This year, on offense, rising stars Tarence Williams and Jason Anderson return, but it's on defense where Wake must find someone to make an impact. Perhaps it will come from Georgia transfer Brad White at linebacker, or perhaps it will come from junior safety Quintin Williams, who could develop into one of the ACC's top defensive backs.
Williams is not unfamiliar to Wake fans. It's just that for the first part of his career, they were more likely to be yelling at him than cheering him. The Deacs' lack of talent forced him into action at cornerback as a true freshman. Like most freshmen, he struggled.
Last season, he started off at cornerback again, before injuries to Wake's linebackers changed his career. The coaching staff decided to play a 3-3-5 lineup and moved Williams to free safety. His impact was immediate: Against N.C. State he made nine tackles, including one for a loss, and broke up two passes. The next week, Williams made eight tackles and forced a fumble against Duke.
Later in the season, he played one of his best games, making nine tackles against North Carolina. With UNC in Wake territory in the final minute, he iced the 32-31 victory by knocking the ball from quarterback Darian Durant on a blitz. Despite his slow start, he finished the season fourth on the team in tackles (second among returning players behind linebacker Kellen Brantley) and fifth in the ACC in pass breakups.
Coach Jim Grobe called the move the best his staff made last year, even though he felt Williams was a bit too tentative at his new position. The coach expects to see none of that hesitation this year.
"He's a natural safety," Grobe said. "He enjoys contact. He's a bit too aggressive at times, and we will end up with him at the line of scrimmage like a linebacker.
"I think Quintin is one of those guys who has the super work ethic to go along with the ability. That's why I really believe he can develop into a really good player. He's a guy who has all the intangible stuff - the attitude, he plays with pain, he's a great worker and a student of the game, likes to watch film, likes to know what's going on, likes to make checks and so on. He's a good one. He's what you want back there."
Those qualities have helped Williams emerge as a leader in an extremely young secondary. He said he leads by example, and it's hard to argue: He has reached Wake's gold standard in all eight weight-lifting categories (including a 355-pound bench press), and the coaches tell stories of Williams leading young defensive backs in sprints and back-pedal drills well after practice is over.
That extra work could help a once-maligned cornerback turn into a star safety this season.