Juice Williams: The Maturation Of A Quarterback

Chicago native Juice Williams has made things happen with his feet for most of his career; this season he's put up some impressive numbers with his arm as well.
Chicago native Juice Williams has made things happen with his feet for most of his career; this season he's put up some impressive numbers with his arm as well.

Nov. 6, 2008

by Laura Wickstrom, Illinois Sports Information

Over the past three years, Illini fans have watched Juice Williams transform from an untamed freshman to one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

Williams has matured as a player and learned to accept and embrace his role as quarterback, which is evident not only in the record books and statistics sheets but also in his demeanor on and off the field.

"After a while it's just something that comes to pass," Williams said. "I always heard the coaches say that a quarterback is not a job; it's a lifestyle and career. Coach Locksley always compares being a quarterback to being a doctor.

"When someone is sick, you call the doctor. He's not only a doctor from 9 to 5, he's a doctor 24 hours a day. That's something that he preached to me the first year and it really started sinking in my second year."

Junior quarterback Juice Williams is completing passes at a nearly 60 percent clip this season.

Record books and statistics have proven that it has sunk in. With over one year of eligibility ahead of him, Williams holds the Illinois career record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,810. He also holds two stadium records for total offense, which he set in consecutive weeks. In Illinois' 45-20 win at Michigan, Williams totaled 431 yards to break the Michigan Stadium record, then he returned home to Memorial Stadium, where he posted a record 503 yards against Minnesota.

Also in the Michigan game, Williams completed a career-long pass of 77 yards to Jeff Cumberland and registered a career-long carry of 50 yards. He leads the Big Ten in total offense (331.0) as well as passing efficiency (152.6). He also currently ranks fourth on the Illinois career passing touchdowns list with 40.

Named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his performances in the Missouri and Michigan games, and earning a spot on the ESPN Heisman Trophy Watch list, Williams remains a force to be reckoned with.

Over the years, Williams' passing has steadily improved as his completion percentage has risen from 39.5 percent in 2006 to 59.1 percent this season. After passing for 22 touchdowns in his first two seasons combined, Williams has 19 TD passes through nine games in 2008. He also has 2,441 passing yards and could nearly double his career passing yards entering this season with a strong finish.

Williams scored two rushing touchdowns in 2006, seven in 2007, and has five so far this season with three games remaining. Williams' rushing yards per game also has grown steadily over the three years, from 48.0 yards per game in 2006 to 56.6 this year. He has racked up over 300 passing yards in three games so far this season and his five touchdown passes against Missouri were the second-most in school history.

Coming off the incredible turnaround the team experienced in the 2007 season and the trip to the 2008 Rose Bowl, expectations were sky-high entering the 2008 campaign. But Williams has become accustomed to the pressure to perform at a high level during his time at Illinois.

"I don't think it's changed anything," Williams said. "But it adds a little pressure when people start to anticipate wins every week. It's something that comes along with the territory; it comes along with winning. Obviously, when you win, those expectations grow for you and that's the type of situation you're going to be in."

Williams has taken advantage of opportunities such as practicing with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb over the summer to gain experience and to improve his passing, but he deems experience as the main factor in his maturation.

"Just being out here on the field and being active on the team, (being) out there playing and flying around, learning things out there on the fly and just playing has really benefited me being a quarterback," Williams said. "Watching film, talking to some of the older guys and getting a better grasp of the offense and being with the coaches has really helped make the offense better."

While Williams is not lacking confidence, head football coach Ron Zook's full faith in his abilities and potential can't hurt.

"He continues to get better, and he does the things that Coach (Mike) Locksley and the offensive coaches have demanded him to do," Zook said. "He has the capabilities. When he raises the bar, it helps his confidence level, it helps our team's confidence level, and he knows that we're going to keep pushing him to do better."

Being the starting quarterback his first year may not have been an ideal situation, but it's what helped him to become the player he is today. Zook is a firm believer in improving by experience and Williams has proven him right. His maturation came through experience, learning from mistakes and going the extra mile.

"The things that you see out there on the field become second nature to you," Williams said. "Just being around the game really matures you and helps you to become a better football player."

But football isn't the only thing Juice has to worry about. He has his daughter, LaChez, and family to take care of on top of everything. How does he balance it all?

"You have to make a priority list," Williams said. "Obviously, family comes first, but there are certain sacrifices that you have to make in order to come out here and do what you need to do on the football field. The family understands the position I'm in and they know that football is going to take a large amount of time and they're willing to work with me. That's probably the best thing and the most helpful thing they can do for me. Everything has been working out beautifully and it's really showing out here."

Most people would buckle under the stress of having so many obligations, but Williams deals with it valiantly.

As the starting quarterback, Juice is often a spokesman for the team.

"What I do is always think of other people who are in worse situations," he said. "Football is still a game. Obviously, it's a lot of pressure, everyone expects you to do great. I always think of other people who are in the worst possible situations, people in foreign countries who fight for their life everyday. That really helps me out. It just reminds me that the situation I'm in is nowhere near as tough as the situation they're in, so that really helps me and motivates me through the day."

Sometimes motivation comes from other sources, such as late-night text messages from Locksley to reinforce his emphasis on Williams living the quarterback lifestyle. Locksley may text his protege something the coordinator picked up during an evening of film study and game planning, or he may simply encourage Williams to remember some of his many successes.

"On one occasion, he texted me at four in the morning and was like `What's your favorite passes,' and I was like, `Coach, it's four in the morning. You can't wait three hours to text me that?'" Williams has established himself as the leader of the Illini football team over his three years as quarterback, but it's always about the team for him. His favorite touchdown of this season so far proves his selflessness and dedication to his team.

"My favorite (touchdown) was the first one to Will Judson," Williams said. "I think it was his first touchdown in his career here and it was real special to see him get his first touchdown after three years here. It really meant something to me and obviously to his teammates, too."