The first start of Troy Williams’ college career came at a time when he felt Washington Huskies coaches wanted him the least.
This incongruity, in the words of Williams and Tim Kaub, his close friend and former coach, is what ultimately led the quarterback to believe there was no place for him with the Washington Huskies and why he is so looking forward to suiting up against them as Utah’s starting quarterback when UW visits the Utes for Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“You can’t put enough exclamation points on it,” Kaub said. “It’s a big game for him.”
Williams is eager to show UW coaches his capability as a quarterback, something he felt he wasn’t given the chance to do at Washington — even as he prepared to make his first start.
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As Williams tells it: he played some as the backup during Washington’s 2014 loss at Oregon. Came in for injured starter Cyler Miles. Played OK. Scored his first touchdown, even.
But Williams said this week that the day after that game, UW coach Chris Petersen called him into his office and told him he was being demoted to fourth-string (though with K.J. Carta-Samuels redshirting that season, it seems more likely that a demotion would have put Williams at third-string).
“I went back home and told my roommates,” Williams said this week. “They thought I was lying. Everybody was laughing. I was so serious, because it was just so hard to believe.
“I feel like that was (Petersen’s) way of telling me it was time to go.”
It was only when coaches received word that Miles wouldn’t be able to play, Williams said, that they changed course and told Williams he would be starting.
Such swift fluctuation, Kaub said — from backup to third-string to starter in a span of days — seemed to suggest an obvious message: “We don’t like you, but you do give us the best chance to win this game.”
Williams wound up completing 18 of 26 passes for 139 yards and two interceptions — in miserable weather — in a loss to ASU. Miles returned the following week, and Williams didn’t play again.
Through a spokesperson, Petersen declined to comment on Williams’ remarks about that week. The coach said this week that Williams’ decision to leave came amid “chaotic times for everybody” in Petersen’s first season as UW’s coach.
“I think sometimes, at the end of the day, as you’re working through all those things, and you didn’t recruit a guy, … the guy just says, ‘Maybe I just need a fresh start,’ ” Petersen said. “I thought Troy was a good player when he was here, and I knew he’d go somewhere and be a really good player. I think that’s proven true.”
For both sides. Williams left UW at season’s end and transferred to Santa Monica (Community) College, where he played for Kaub, who had been his high-school offensive coordinator at Narbonne High in Los Angeles. He led Santa Monica to an 11-0 record in 2015, earned a scholarship offer from Utah and easily won the Utes’ starting job.
And the Huskies are obviously plenty fine with how their quarterback situation worked out. Sophomore Jake Browning has thrown 26 touchdowns and two interceptions in seven games this season. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate. Little investigation is required to conclude that Williams was right to leave.
Still, it wasn’t easy. Williams might not have fuzzy feelings toward UW’s coaching staff, but he has nothing but nice things to say about his former teammates. He rattles them off: Keishawn Bierria, one of his best childhood pals. Darrell Daniels. Azeem Victor. Brandon Beaver. Trevor Walker. Kevin King. UW receiver John Ross was Williams’ roommate. He also calls him his brother. They spoke on the phone this week.
“I could go down the list,” Williams said.
He had a few offers to transfer to four-year schools right away. But he ultimately decided to team up with Kaub again at Santa Monica, hopeful that he could parlay a successful year there into a scholarship at a strong FBS program.
That he did. Williams threw for 2,750 yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions at Santa Monica, and threw seven touchdown passes in a 63-0 victory over Victor Valley in their bowl game. Utah had offered him a scholarship following a seven-touchdown performance against L.A. Harbor, and Williams committed right away.
At Utah, he says, he feels wanted, like the coaches have his back. Through eight games, Williams has posted modest numbers: a 55.9 completion percentage with 1,725 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. But he is the quarterback of a Pac-12 team with a 7-1 record and earned credibility this season by leading a game-winning touchdown drive in Utah’s 31-27 victory over USC.
“He’s truly a kid that wants to win,” said Kaub, now the offensive coordinator at El Camino College. “What they’re asking him to do has worked. They’re playing really good defense, running the ball effectively, not taking a lot of chances. Troy’s kind of a chameleon — he can fit your offense however you need him to.”
Bierria remembers sitting with Williams during his final weeks at UW, asking him if he really was going to transfer. The two have been friends since they were little. Their families are close. They played together at Narbonne.
Indeed, Williams said, it was time to go. But he told his teammates they would see him on the field again.
“His goal was to play us,” Bierria said. “I kind of smiled and chuckled like, ‘Man, that’s unbelievable.’ To see him go home, go undefeated at JC ball, and come here and almost do the same thing, that’s amazing. I’m proud of him.”
Likewise, Williams can’t wait to share a football field with his old pals.
“I wish those guys the best over there,” Williams said. “No hard feelings, no love lost. I just want to go out there and have fun. That’s the big thing. It’s not too many times in your life you get to play a lot of your buddies like this.”