Sophomore Donovan Williams had a short-lived tenure as the University of Connecticut football team’s starting quarterback last season, to say the least.
Thrown into the fire late in his freshman year – initially expected to be a redshirt season – by former head coach Bob Diaco, Williams started the last three games for the Huskies, essentially wasting a year of his eligibility.
Seeing that he would not be one of the first quarterbacks on the depth chart ahead of the 2017 season, Williams agreed to make the tough decision and switch positions for the sake of helping the team.
“It was definitely a tough decision initially, because I played quarterback for such a long time, that’s where my heart was,” Williams said. “But I came to the realization that I loved football more. And I saw that I could contribute to the team in multiple ways, and use my athleticism to change positions and contribute.”
Williams talked with new head coach Randy Edsall before making the transition, and it appears to be paying off on the practice field.
“One thing about Donovan, when we made the move…I thought it was something that he really embraced and wanted to do,” Edsall said. “And now you see him doing things as a receiver and you just see him getting better each practice because he’s getting more comfortable with everything.”
In the offseason, Williams worked extensively as a wide receiver and worked on the special teams unit in order to get some playing time and perhaps help UConn with his athleticism. Standing at 6-foot-4, Williams was initially recruited by several FBS schools to play as a wide receiver or defensive back due to his athletic ability.
“A lot of [the adjustment to receiver] just learning all the finer points of being a receiver,” Edsall said. “He’s a really good athlete, he understands things. The other thing where he’s made strides on is special teams. Now we’re able to use him on special teams…on punt and kickoff returns. You just see how much he’s gotten better with each practice he goes through because he’s getting more comfortable doing those things.”
Williams noted that there were some big changes to being a receiver, especially in an up-tempo offense like that of offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
“The biggest thing was just that it was more physically demanding,” Williams said. “As a quarterback, you know, you’re on your feet but you’re not running constantly, especially in this offense. The biggest change is the physical aspect. I love it.”
Edsall attributes Williams’ improvement to his maturity and work ethic on the practice field and expects the work will pay off on game day soon.
“I’ve liked the approach that he’s taken to the position…He’s got a really good work ethic. He wants to be good, he wants to do well,” Edsall said. “You see it on film each day.”
Williams’ value on special teams could be vital to the Huskies, since he can help in special teams coverage and on returns as a blocker. However, he has had to get used to hitting opponents again – rather than the other way around – after many years of playing quarterback.
“Probably like eighth grade, middle school. It’s not that big of a change. Football is football, it’s kind of like riding a bike,” Williams responded when asked the last time he had to tackle somebody. “But you know on this level, everything is much faster so it does take time in practice getting used to it again.”
He will get the opportunity to show off his improved skills at receiver and special teams Saturday when UConn visits Virginia, Williams’ home state, in a non-conference matchup taking place noon Saturday at Scott Stadium.