Virginia Tech cornerback Jimmy Williams has always been more than confident in his athletic abilities. On his right forearm, a tattoo reads: "Destined 2." On his left: "Be Great."
But Williams's confidence got him into hot water last season with Hokies Coach Frank Beamer. Before the 2004 opener against defending national champion Southern California in the Black Coaches Association Classic at FedEx Field, Williams said Trojans wide receiver Mike Williams wouldn't be very productive if he played in the game. The NCAA denied reinstating the receiver's eligibility before the game, but the damage was done in Beamer's mind. He banned his cornerback from talking to the media for the rest of the season.
So last month, when Virginia Tech's players reported to Lane Stadium for the annual team picture and media interviews, Williams was biting his tongue. Beamer's message had apparently gotten through loud and clear.
"I like it that way," Beamer said. "I like respecting the game and the opponent and playing hard."
Beamer has never questioned Williams's work ethic or talent. Last season, the senior from Hampton, Va., was an all-ACC selection and a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to college football's best defensive back. Williams led the ACC with five interceptions and was third on the team with 60 tackles in his first season at cornerback after starting at free safety during the 2003 season.
Williams, 6 feet 3 and 216 pounds, played so well last year that many Virginia Tech fans didn't expect him to be back in Blacksburg this season. Williams was ranked among the top non-seniors available for the NFL draft, but he surprised a lot of friends and teammates when he decided to return to Tech. Losing Williams would have been a tremendous blow to the Hokies, who had already graduated starting cornerback Eric Green and safeties James Griffin and Vincent Fuller from a secondary that helped them rank No. 4 in Division I-A in pass defense last season.
"Hey, I wanted to shock the world," Williams said. "A lot of people thought I was going to leave, but I wanted to do something different. A lot of guys before me who had the opportunity to leave did leave. I wanted to be different. I wanted to leave my mark on this program and its history."
Barring an injury this season, Williams's decision could pay off in a big way in April's NFL draft. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Williams the No. 1 cornerback and No. 10 senior available for the draft. Williams's athleticism and big-play abilities are why he is being compared to former Tech standout DeAngelo Hall, a first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2004 NFL draft.
Unlike Hall, Williams has the size to play free safety in the NFL, but he also is fast enough to cover wide receivers in the open field as a cornerback.
"I wanted to come back and be the number one player in college football," Williams said. "Not just the number one defensive back."
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster will be counting on Williams to anchor the Hokies' rebuilt secondary. With sophomore Roland Minor lining up at the other cornerback spot and sophomore D.J. Parker likely starting at free safety, Williams doesn't figure to get many passes thrown to his side of the field this season. Keeping his young teammates in the right place will be just as important for Williams, Beamer said.
"Jimmy's doing great right now as far as being a team player here, respecting his teammates and being a great senior leader," Beamer said. "He's covering people like a blanket and has really played well and has confidence."
And, most importantly in Beamer's eyes, Williams is doing it quietly. After making his candid remarks about Mike Williams before last season's opener, the cornerback was burned for one of the biggest plays in the Trojans' 24-13 victory. With Tech leading 10-7 late in the third quarter, running back Reggie Bush lined up at receiver and ran right past Williams for a 53-yard touchdown.
"Damn, I don't want another Reggie Bush play," Williams said. "I was just a kid. I didn't know what to say or how to say it. But I still don't think what I said was all that bad."
Williams said Beamer's censorship did have its benefits, though.
"I'd like to thank Coach Beamer because I didn't have to worry about having a bad game and then having to come and talk to you guys," Williams told reporters.