• 70°

From Washington to Greenville: Williams knows what it takes to be ‘the guy’

GREENVILLE — First it was Justin Hardy. Then, this past year, it was Zay Jones. East Carolina has had the luxury of standout wide receivers carrying the football team for the past few seasons. The ECU coaching staff, fans, and later National Football League staffs all marveled in their talents.

After being granted a medical-hardship waiver and getting an extra year, the Pirates know they’ll have Jimmy Williams returning to burn opposing defensive backs. He showed plenty of potential last season. He was one of the few highlights in a 54-17 thrashing at the hands of Virginia Tech. Williams gashed the Hokie defense for a pair of long touchdowns — ECU’s only two of the afternoon — that totaled 145 yards.

Some that aren’t very familiar with the former Washington standout may not be sure if he can be “the man.”

But Williams knows he can be.

Williams has always wanted the football to be in his hands. He wants to be the one making plays. One person that knows that well is former Washington football coach Sport Sawyer.

Sawyer knew Williams wanted the ball, and he knew what Williams could do with the ball. He put the playmaking athlete under center to give him as many opportunities as possible during his senior year.

“It’s something I took from high school with me. You’re the guy,” Williams said after ECU’s spring game in April. “Coach Sawyer instilled that in me from the time I was a sophomore coming up as a quarterback. I had never played quarterback before. He said, ‘You’re the guy, you’re the guy.’ He kept instilling that in me. … He shot me a text the other night and said, ‘You’re that guy.’”

Jimmy Williams, ball in hand, sees a gap and bolts down the field during a Washington football game years ago.

Sawyer had a feeling that Williams could be that playmaker when he saw the soon-to-be signal caller practice.

“I can remember him being a good old practice player,” Sawyer said. “His athletic ability kind of caught our eyes. … That’s what he did for the Pam Pack. We put the ball in his hands and he made plays.”

The Pam Pack quarterback turned ECU receiver even joked about it during halftime of the Purple-Gold scrimmage. WNCT’s Brian Bailey asked Williams, in front of the entire crowd, whether preferred being the signal caller at Washington or playing receiver for the Pirates. He joked that he liked being under center for the Pam Pack because he got to touch the ball more.

Williams led the Pam Pack in passing and rushing as a senior in 2012. He completed 48-of-81 passes for 937 yards and 14 touchdowns. He and then-sophomore phenom Markel Spencer were a dual threat out of the backfield. Williams totaled 1,225 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns — both of which led the team — but Spencer was just behind him with 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns.

Washington thrived the more he had the ball. The Pam Pack won 10 games his senior year before running into an unstoppable Havelock team in the third round of the playoffs.

Williams took command in a big-game scenario when Washington took on Hertford County in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. His 228 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries were the difference in a one-possession, 28-21 win. It marked a sixth win in a row and set up that meeting with Havelock.

His days in the Pam Pack navy and white came to an end, but Williams’ time at Washington gave him the tools to grow into the breed of top-notch receiver that ECU prides itself on developing.

This story is part one of a three-part feature on former Washington football player and East Carolina standout Jimmy Williams.