Ten games into his career as quarterback for the St. Stephens Indians varsity football program, Matt Williams is already making huge strides.
The 6-foot, 170-pound freshman is coming into his own after starting the season sharing the snaps for the Indians (3-7, 1-4).
“We knew coming into this season that he was going to be a solid quarterback for us,” said Indians coach Fred Whalen. “He worked out with us at the kids camp over the summer. When he worked with us, we saw the potential he had there.”
Whalen said he had some initial concerns about starting Williams at the varsity level.
“We honestly kind of hoped he'd stay down on junior varsity and get some experience before we had to ‘throw him into the‘fire’” he said. “It came to be that he was performing so well that we wanted to give him a shot at varsity.”
His first varsity snaps took place in week one against Bandys, a feeling Williams said he remembers well.
“The first game I had I was so nervous,” he said. “I was really nervous going out there. When I got through the first series, I was fine. Just getting hit that first time just wakes you up. You know you're on varsity. You just go out there and try to be better than they are.”
That game, he completed just 1-of-7 passes for 14 yards and two interceptions.
“I think at the beginning, it was more of a mental thing for him, aside from being nervous,” Whalen said. “He didn't know the plays really well and that takes him a while to get used to it. These other guys have been around 3-4 years, so they know what is going on. It took them that long to get comfortable with the plays and to run them correctly.”
Eight weeks later, Williams had a career game against North Buncombe, rushing for 117 yards and three scores, while also throwing a TD.
Last week against Foard, he completed 16-of-27 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown.
“He's grown a lot since day one,” said senior lineman Brandon Grant. “He is still a little bit nervous, but not as much. He knows the plays now. When you think about your typical freshman, it’s not him. He's not shy or scared of anybody. He does his job. He fits right in with the team.”
Williams said a lot of his success has been because of strong teammates.
“The team has come together pretty good,” he said. “Everyone is together in the team and there aren't any individuals. I think this is one of the best years of my life. Even though we haven't won many games, everyone has been there for each other. If you do something bad, we just pick each other up.”
Senior tight end Zach Bumgarner said experiences his freshman year helped him prepare for his future in the Indians football program.
“I remember my freshman year,” he said. “We had some pretty big guys on that team. I think they went 7-4 on the varsity level. We had a lot of people to look up to. I think that helps us out now. We just try to imitate those guys. I think that is a lot of what Matt does. As a senior group, we are really tight and play together. I think that's going to help him a lot in the future.”
Whalen likes the future potential of Williams and sees shades of a former Indian who also played under center.
“When you see his play-making ability, not just throwing the ball, but running the ball, it reminds me of Tanner Miller, our quarterback last year,” he said. “He has flashes of Tanner. When Tanner looked like he was going to be sacked, he got out of it and made a big play down the field. We definitely see that out of Matt. Hopefully, he can continue to get stronger, keep working and be a big impact for us for three more years.”