Paul Golla often found Cameron Williams in Bakersfield High’s weight room during lunchtime.
Golla, then Bakersfield’s head football coach, had to cut through the weight room to get to his office. And on more than a few occasions, he discovered Williams in the midst of a mid-day workout when he stepped inside.
Washington defensive back Myles Bryant can relate. Ever since Williams arrived on campus as an early enrollee freshman, Bryant has been running into him putting in extra work in the weight and training rooms outside of practice.
Bryant gravitates toward teammates like Williams, the players who just want so badly to learn. And so Bryant, a senior, started asking Williams to join him for additional film sessions and workouts.
“He’s like a football savvy guy,” Bryant said after the Huskies’ fall practice on Friday. “He just wants to know everything that he can.”
By the time spring practice got rolling, Williams was taking snaps with the No. 1 defense. Then, during the five days of fall camp that were open to the media, Williams and Bryant were staples at first-team safety.
UW has to replace both starting safeties and cornerbacks from last year’s team that won the Pac-12 championship and played in the Rose Bowl, but it hasn’t started a true freshman in the secondary since Taylor Rapp in 2016. It’s looking increasingly likely that Williams will break that trend when the Huskies take the field against Eastern Washington on Aug. 31.
“(Williams) was on it,” head coach Chris Petersen said during Pac-12 media day in July. “From day one, he kind of picked it up. … He never stepped back. He kept battling. He’s a guy that we’re counting on that’s probably going to be in the mix this fall. We’re counting on that from what he did in the spring.”
Since Williams enrolled early, Bryant said he was able to spend spring practice getting into a rhythm, learning the nuances of UW’s defense and growing comfortable with the university and the city. Williams arrived focused, Petersen said, and consistently played with a sense of urgency. Perhaps most importantly, he never seemed overwhelmed.
On the field, Bryant immediately noticed Williams’ instincts.
“He knew where the ball was going to be,” Bryant said. “He had good feet and he also likes to go out there and just hit people. I like that.”
Golla made sure to emphasize the difficulty of making the jump from high school to college. Not every player can make it look this easy, he said, and it’s always a surprise when it happens.
“With Cam, we knew he would come in (to UW) right away with the knowledge and the coachability,” Golla said. “But for any incoming freshman to be in the rotation, it’s amazing.”
Williams’ high school football career started at quarterback, where he played as freshman. He began playing safety as a sophomore and then broke out at the position as a junior. Even though he was the starting quarterback as a senior, his future was in the secondary.
But the habits from his quarterback days — everything from his study and film tendencies to his meticulous note taking — didn’t fade. While it’s rarity for Golla to have a player start at quarterback and also play safety, Williams took naturally to the position. Not only is he technically sound, Golla said, but he’s a quick and efficient learner.
“As a quarterback, you got to know coverages, you got to know schemes, you got to know a lot moving parts,” Golla said. “I think that absolutely helped him defensively because he kind of understands what offenses are trying to do.”
Williams was quiet in high school, much more likely to put his head down and get to work than make a speech. But he knew how to choose his moments. Whenever the team was facing any kind of adversity, Golla said, it was often Williams who would step up as a calming voice. And when he spoke up, his teammates listened.
“He became a coach,” Golla said with a laugh. “He honestly could’ve coached us for his senior year. He could’ve been on the staff. Now when he’s at Washington, I guarantee you he’s in there with his notebook as a sponge and just taking it all in.”