Freshman TE Maxx Williams key piece of Gophers' offensive puzzle
NOV 07, 2013 10:29a ET
Williams initially couldn't realize just how wide open he was when the pass from quarterback Philip Nelson hit him in the hands. There were no defenders between him and the end zone, giving the 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman a clear lane to paydirt.
As soon as Williams scored to put Minnesota back on top 42-39, he realized something else: there was still 3:06 remaining in the game, plenty of time for Indiana's quick-strike offense to move down the field.
"Any time you get to score a touchdown at the last second of a game like that, it's always a great feeling," Williams said. "But at the time, all I was thinking about was, 'All right, there's a lot of time on the clock still,' just hoping and cheering that our defense could stop them, which we did at the end."
Indeed, Minnesota's defense pounced on a Hoosiers fumble in the final minute to preserve the victory, which was the Gophers' seventh of the year. Williams' touchdown stood as the game winner and he finished the day with four catches for 78 yards and that crucial score.
This was the type of game Williams needed after he had been held without a catch against Northwestern two weeks earlier and had just one grab for 20 yards in Minnesota's win against Nebraska the following game. Yet even with those few quiet weeks -- and two other games in which he didn't record a stat -- Williams is still second on the Gophers in catches (15), receiving yards (251) and touchdowns (3).
"I think he's an unbelievable player for the age he is. He's got bloodlines," said Gophers head coach Jerry Kill. "His mother was a great athlete, his daddy's a great athlete. Maxx don't have no choice."
Williams' father, Brian, also played for Minnesota and wound up playing offensive line for the New York Giants for nine seasons after they drafted him in the first round in 1989. Williams' mother, Rochele, was also a Gopher and played volleyball for the U of M. His uncle Ron played football at Minnesota, too, and Williams' grandfather was a quarterback for Notre Dame in the 1950s.
There's no question that the athletic gene runs in the Williams family -- the same family that surprised the freshman tight end after last weekend's win against Indiana. As the Gophers' team buses were heading to the airport following the victory, Williams received a phone call from his dad.
"My dad calls me and goes, 'Be ready,' and I was like, 'For what, dad?' and he hung up the phone," Williams said. "About two minutes later, we hear horns going on, people cheering out the window of these vans, I was like, wow. I just stood up, 'Sorry everyone, it just might be my family, I'm sorry about that.'"
That family support -- albeit a bit embarrassing Saturday -- has always been there for Williams, and they no doubt were excited for him when he signed to play football at Minnesota as a high schooler in Waconia, Minn. As a three-star recruit, there seemed to be little doubt where Williams would end up, given his lineage.
Williams is one of many young players on Minnesota's offense that has started to click during the Gophers' three-game winning streak. Kill noted this week that the Gophers at one point have had Williams, quarterback Mitch Leidner, and wide receivers Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones all on the field at the same time. All four of them are either true freshmen (Williams and Leidner) or redshirt freshmen (Wolitarsky and Jones).
Add Nelson, a true sophomore quarterback, into the equation and this Minnesota passing game is a young unit with plenty of potential for growth. Williams figures to be a key piece of that puzzle.
"It's a quarterback's dream, and when you've got the big tight ends out there who can create some mismatches, I think that's something we really like to look for in our offenses," Nelson said. "(We're) trying to get Maxx matched up on a safety or cornerback where he's bigger and he's pretty fast as well and he has some great hands, so Maxx is a matchup nightmare for them."
Williams took a redshirt year last season and has since put on over 30 pounds as he's developed into a reliable run-blocking tight end who happens to also be a pretty decent pass catcher and a big target for Nelson and Leidner. Even on the rare occasion when Williams doesn't record a catch in a game, he's contributing to the Gophers' offense -- and to Minnesota victories -- in other ways.
"If I'm not catching balls, I'm not going to complain. That means other people are catching the ball or we're making plays running," Williams said. "So if I don't get the ball, it's no big deal. I was just fortunate enough to have the touchdown last game and a couple more catches. But other than that, I'll let other people make plays as long as we're winning games."
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