By Daniel Hunt
For The Washington Daily News
After watching Jimmy Williams make defenders look foolish during his days playing quarterback for the Pam Pack, Washington natives were likely unfazed when the walk-on opened some eyes at East Carolina as a true freshman receiver.
As a senior at Washington high school, Williams accounted for 29 total touchdowns on 1,329 yards rushing and 974 yards passing, leading the Pack deep into the playoffs. Although he didn’t attract much interest as a quarterback from major universities, his playmaking ability, leadership and winner’s mentality attracted ECU; Williams accepted a preferred walk-on offer from the Pirate coaching staff.
“He’s really a competitor,” said ECU inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick. “He has a lot of inner-confidence because he’s used to being successful.”
The ECU staff has made a tendency of recruiting winning high school quarterbacks to play receiver in their air-raid offense. Look no further than the Pirates’ two leading receivers from the 2013 season: Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones.
“I think playing quarterback gives the receivers a better understanding of what the quarterback sees, and they understands coverage better,” noted Kirkpatrick. “We’ve had a lot of good luck with those guys that moved to receiver after playing quarterback.”
The staff flirted with redshirting Williams a season ago as they looked for the position to best utilize his skill-set and get him in the weight room, but his athletic ability was too enticing and he earned playing time despite depth at the inside receiver position.
In the two games of which Williams received notable action, he was effective, hauling in two catches for 28 yards against North Carolina and three catches for 38 yards against Middle Tennessee the following week. But the freshman’s season ended far earlier than he would have liked, going down with a broken foot in the win over Middle Tennessee.
Unfortunately for the Washington native, he wasn’t eligible for any sort of medical redshirt. His only option was to work, rehab and prepare for a healthy 2014.
It’s safe to say he has done just that.
Head coach Ruffin McNeill and Williams’s positional coach, Kirkpatrick, both rave about the sophomore’s progress, even mentioning his name before any other when asked about the receiving unit as a whole. The speedy Williams, who is listed at 5-11, 167 pounds, seems poised to share time at the ‘H’ position with fellow sophomore-standout Isaiah Jones.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” said McNeill. “I think we’ve got him at the right position with his ability to run. He’s a great addition to our team, and the kids really respond well to him.”
“We’re not going full contact with him right now,” added Kirkpatrick. “We’ll be able to do that before spring is over, but he looks great, he looks fast and I think he’s really going to help us.”
Heading into the 2014 season, ECU appears to have one of the deepest receiving corps in the American Athletic Conference, so it will be no small feat if Williams can earn considerable playing time as a former walk-on sophomore who is months removed from a broken foot.
“The rehab process felt long,” said Williams. “It was longer than I thought it would be. We have a very good training staff that took their time with me. But my foot is stronger and I’m starting to get in shape. It feels great.”
Everything seems to be coming together nicely for Williams, who is now healthy and secure with his position and new home in Greenville. But the Washington native is still known to sing praises for his home town.
“I love Washington,” he said. “I go back every weekend basically. I love my home town more than anything. Sometimes people say I’m from Greenville, but I always tell them, ‘No, I’m from Washington.’”
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