He says it was a misperception.
But 2007 South Kitsap High School graduate Renard Williams has heard the criticism.
His detractors said he took plays off and was not physical enough. Williams said it simply was a misunderstanding — he was often faced with the challenge of trying to make plays for the Wolves as a defensive tackle fighting through two or three offensive linemen.
And, as a redshirt junior at Eastern Washington, it is one he has dealt with throughout the season as opponents often must account for 6-foot-2, 300-pound Williams, who leads the Eagles into the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals at 5 tonight against Villanova at Woodward Stadium in Cheney.
Not the perception — the matchups.
“He just keeps getting better every week,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. “When you can impact a game as Renard goes, that’s special.”
Williams’ statistics might not appear as dominant as last season — he has 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 43 tackles, but he said that is a byproduct of constantly being double- and triple-teamed.
Williams admits that has been frustrating at times — he talked with his coaches early in the season to make sure he was not regressing — but he knows offensive coaches now are accounting for him after he produced 9 ½ sacks in 2009.
For a second straight season, Williams was first-team all-Big Sky selection.
“I’m not an All-American yet, which I’m a bit sour about,” Williams said.
Baldwin said that mentality is one of the biggest differences he has seen in Williams since he became the Eagles’ coach in 2008 after Paul Wulff left for Washington State. He said he still uses terms such as “easy going” and “likeable” to describe Williams — descriptives that were commonplace at South — but said his pupil is more focused.
“In fairness to him, when you’re 16 or 17 years old, there’s a lot of room for growth,” Baldwin said.
When he was that age, Williams had visions of playing in the Pac-10. He said all four Northwest schools in the conference, in addition to USC, showed interest.
Williams said his grade-point average and SAT score were not issues, but none of those universities could admit him because he lacked some core classes.
Because he was not compliant with Proposition 48, a rule passed by the NCAA in 1983 that mandates athletes achieve certain benchmarks for GPA, SAT and credits earned in core classes, Williams was forced to redshirt in 2007 at Eastern. Now an NFL prospect, Williams said he has no regrets about not being able to play at a larger school.
“I’m not sour about it,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
When Williams became eligible to play the following season, he was introduced to a new position coach, Ryan Sawyer.
“When I first got here, we butted heads from time to time,” Williams said. “We want to be the dominant person in the room. With him being the coach when I first got here … I really didn’t know how to accept that.”
With no shortage of hard-nosed coaches in the professional ranks, both Williams and Baldwin agreed that the adjustment to Sawyer has been beneficial.
“He has become a tougher player since he’s been here,” Baldwin said. “It helps a lot to keep growing.”
There remains room for further development. Williams said he will not consider entering the NFL draft next spring and Baldwin agrees that makes sense.
For now, Williams just wants to focus on the playoffs. It all began Sept. 18 against rival and perennial Big Sky contender Montana when teammate Jerry Ceja forced a fumble, and Williams picked it up and rambled down the red FieldTurf at Woodward for a touchdown to clinch a 36-27 win. It was the Eagles’ first win against Montana since 2005.
“Stuff like that really doesn’t happen to defensive linemen,” said Williams, a communication major who hopes to work as a football broadcaster when his career is over. “I got tunnel vision on the way to the end zone.”
The playmaking has continued into the postseason as Eastern has won nine consecutive games since losing 30-7 on Sept. 25 at Montana State.
Williams had six tackles in a 37-17 win against Southeast Missouri State to open the playoffs.
Williams then followed that with three tackles-for-loss and two sacks during Saturday’s 38-31 overtime victory versus North Dakota State.
The Bisons, who rushed 376 yards the previous week in a win against Montana State, averaged just 3.7 yards per carry versus the Eagles.
“We knew they were a physical team that liked to run the ball a lot,” Williams said. “We knew we were going to play a big part. We were the more physical team and stopped the run.”
Baldwin said a lot of that stems from Williams.
“I’m excited to see him again this weekend,” he said. “To put on a show like he did, it’s special. You don’t see that very often.”