Only David Walker, who was 17 years, 9 months when he first started for Texas A&M in 1973, was younger.
Williams ascended to starter on the heels of his performance coming off the bench in last weekend’s 53-23 loss to North Carolina.
Sophomore Jordan Hoy started against the visiting Tar Heels and completed 1 of 7 passes for seven yards before Coach Bobby Wilder inserted classmate Blake LaRussa in the second quarter. LaRussa went 4 for 6 with 68 yards and threw one interception as the offense went scoreless behind the first- and second-string quarterbacks.
Wilder turned to Williams late in the second quarter, with Old Dominion starting at the Tar Heels 35-yard line after recovering a fumble. Williams guided Old Dominion to two first downs to set up first and goal at the 2, but on second down, Williams fumbled after running for no gain, and North Carolina recovered.
The turnover didn’t sway Wilder from sticking with Williams in the second half.
“I played the position and coached it. You never want to make a quarterback change,” Wilder told reporters during a news conference Monday. “Our team had lost all their energy, and we didn’t have an identity. You go through it at times with quarterbacks where you get some highs and lows, but I just sensed from our team that they didn’t have any idea who we were.
“What Steven brings to our offense is he clearly has the strongest arm of the quarterbacks. He’s explosive. You saw that on Saturday.”
Wilder was referring to Williams’s 71-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Travis Fulgham (Broad Run) to cap the third series of the third quarter and bring the Monarchs within 39-17 with 7:26 to play.
Williams finished 9 for 20 for 139 yards and two touchdowns, the last covering 18 yards to sophomore wide receiver Hasaan Patterson that whittled the deficit to 43-26 with 6:51 left in the fourth quarter.
That’s as close as Old Dominion (2-1) would get, but Williams had done enough to earn the right to make the first start of his college career this week in a daunting environment: sold-out Lane Stadium.
“It was excitement and nerves at the same time until the game calmed down for me,” Williams said. “The game was moving pretty fast, but then the game just slowed down a lot more as the game progressed. I was more comfortable.”
As for playing the most important position on offense at such a young age, Williams dealt with that, too, in high school and emerged the better for it. When he was 13, Williams, then a freshman, played on Wilson’s varsity team. He went on to compile 73 touchdowns and more than 5,000 total yards over his junior and senior years.
Williams, a left-hander, was the Monarchs’ first commitment in the 2017 class, choosing Old Dominion over programs including Temple, North Carolina State and Florida Atlantic. Part of Williams’s decision included Old Dominion running a spread offense, befitting his ability to break down defenses with his arm as well as his legs.
Old Dominion moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014, joining Conference USA. The school also approved plans to build a $55 million stadium expected to be ready in time for the 2019 season.
“It’s thrilling, and people back home are talking about it,” Williams said of his rise to starter. “I’ve been doing this for a while, so it’s nothing new. I’m just ready to go out there and show what I can do and that I’ve got my city behind me.”
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