The letters kept coming. Would he go to Texas? Florida? Penn State? "It was very tough for me," says Williams. "A lot of people were trying to pull me other ways. I wanted to set my mark somewhere I could change the program. There wasn't a better place than here."
In his freshman year Williams averaged 13.1 yards on 22 catches and 4.8 yards on 22 carries before breaking his arm in the seventh game of the season, against Michigan. "When he first got here," remembers Jay Paterno, "he was just a guy who got his hands on the ball and made things happen and didn't really have to focus as much on little details and techniques." Since then, Paterno says, Williams has spent more time studying the game. "He's constantly calling up the quarterbacks saying, 'Somebody come throw for me.' You almost worry about him working too much because you don't want him to burn out."
Burning out isn't an option, according to Williams, who received his undergraduate degree in May and, as the top pro prospect of the three, hopes to spend next spring prepping for the NFL draft. He is relishing his role as co-captain, along with senior center A.Q. Shipley, who refers to Williams's speed and versatility as "unreal." Williams doesn't disagree. "I think I'm more like Mr. Incredible," Williams says before starting to laugh. "Not trying to sound cocky, but I pretty much think that I can do anything."
Offensively, that's pretty much the case. When Williams isn't lined up at wideout on the outside or in the slot ("I really love the slot," he says), it probably means he's in the backfield, where he has the ability to run outside or between the tackles. If he goes in motion from the backfield, he can draw coverage from a linebacker or a strong safety (mismatches) or from a corner (creating a mismatch elsewhere). "It's like having a cool toy in the neighborhood," says Jay Paterno.
Whereas Norwood tried to gain weight, the six-foot Williams has done the opposite. He has slimmed down from 203 to 194, mostly by just eating healthier. "A lot of people say that with me shedding pounds, it made me look faster," says Williams. "I felt the same."
But Joe Paterno sees the difference and also sees, after three seasons in Happy Valley, a more confident Williams, who had to deal with a lot of pressure coming out of high school. "People expected a little bit too much from him," says Paterno. "[Now] he's not worried about what people expect of him. He isn't out there saying, I'm supposed to do this; I'm supposed to do that."
THIS YEAR THE PRESSURE may be more on the quarterbacks than on any of the wideouts, but having such a seasoned wide receiving corps has helped the senior Clark and redshirt sophomore Pat Devlin, who are competing for the starting job, with their confidence. "They're all veterans, they all know their stuff," says Devlin. "Deon sits behind me in the film room, and sometimes he'll just point out something that I've missed. We'll go out to practice, and it'll just make it that much easier."
The wideouts' maturity has given the offensive coaching staff the confidence to try new formations—even a three wide receiver set—and McQueary says he wouldn't be surprised if each one lined up at a different location (slot, outside or in the backfield) at some point in 2008.
"When I sit down and work on the passing game, it's like being head of Hendrick Motorsports," says Jay Paterno, referring to the NASCAR team that boasts three superstars in Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. "You've got all these guys who are talented you can win with."
They may not all have started out as superstars, but Butler, Norwood and Williams have proved that at Linebacker U the wideouts also deserve some publicity—and even their own photo shoot.