The list of quarterbacks victimized by cornerback Trae Williams continues to grow.
In Saturday’s victory, Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko became the fifth different quarterback to have a pass intercepted by Williams, giving him six on the season and placing him one behind J.R. Reed’s single season record of seven interceptions.
For Williams, picking off passes is just business as usual.
“If I get (the record) it would be a nice accomplishment, but it hasn’t crossed my mind,” Williams said. “People are starting to bring it up and I appreciate that, but I just try and keep my focus on the game.”
Reed and Williams played together during 2003, but often went head-to-head in practice because Williams was brought in as a running back.
“I remember going against (Reed) in practice, he was a great player,” Williams said. “He got the best of me more than I got the best of him.”
Before the end of his freshman year, Williams converted to cornerback and quickly established himself as one of the best defenders on the team, starting eight games and recording one interception.
At the beginning of the season, wide receiver Amarri Jackson felt Williams was going to have a breakout junior season.
“The way he was training this off-season you could tell he was going to be great,” Jackson said. “His strength and speed is ridiculous. But the main thing is his footwork; it’s tough to get by him.”
Coming into this season, Williams had three career interceptions. One of the biggest reasons for his vast improvement is the presence of fellow cornerback and roommate Mike Jenkins.
“We definitely feed off each other, in practice we’re always competing,” Williams said. “It’s good because if one of us misses an assignment we get on each other and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
A typical work week is usually considered to be 40 hours, but Jenkins knows Williams is putting in much more time than that.
“He’s one of the hardest working players on the team and it shows,” Jenkins said. “Even when we have some down time we just end up practicing. It has to be like that and that’s why he’s making the plays he does.”
All of the hours of hard work haven’t gone unnoticed.
“Trae Williams is really special. He works very hard,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “He’s a tremendous corner, makes a lot of plays…not only does he have a lot of talent, he works hard for it.”
Jackson agrees with Leavitt and feels opposing quarterbacks are making a mistake anytime they throw to his side of the field.
“He’s getting to that point whenever a ball is thrown to his side you expect him to get it,” Jackson said. “Trae gets picks because he runs the routes better than the receiver he’s covering.”
Despite the compliment from Jackson about his route running, Williams remains humble, unlike some well-known receivers.
“No I don’t have a list like Chad Johnson,” Williams said. “I just want to go out and make big plays and let Matt (Grothe) do his thing.”
In addition to Palko, four other quarterbacks are on his stat sheet for giving up interceptions – Derri Fourroux (McNeese State), Josh Padrick (FIU), twice against Steven Moffett (UCF) and Mike Teel (Rutgers).
Against the Golden Knights, Williams became only the seventh player in USF history to record multiple interceptions in a game, a list that includes Reed.
Prior to playing USF, Plako had thrown only three interceptions all season. Against the Bulls he threw three. Williams and Jenkins each caught one and Jeremy Burnett caught the other.
Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson is coming into Saturday’s game against USF with three interceptions. Williams hopes to repeat the success he had against Pittsburgh.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film and know we have our work cut out for us,” Williams said. “I just look for tendencies-how they run their routes. That’s what really helps me get an advantage.”
Reed owns the record for most interceptions in a game (3) and career (18), as well. Only in his third season, Williams can challenge each record.
Williams said he can determine if he can catch the ball once it leaves the quarterback’s hands and feels most of his interceptions came because of good timing and correct reads because of his time in the film room.
“Most of the time I can tell right away if I can intercept the pass,” Williams said. “My eyes light up when I see the ball coming towards me. The last one I just made a move and had a pretty easy pick.”
Although Williams wouldn’t predict whether or not he will break the record, Jackson did.
“I see him getting it, he’ll definitely pull out seven or eight interceptions,” Jackson said. “He’s playing so well, I think he’s going to get those interceptions and pass J.R.”
Williams has one of Reed’s numerous records within reach and only one big play can put their names side by side.