Middle linebacker Jacob Williams is the Tigers’ leader in tackle and leader on the field this season.
Middle linebacker Jacob Williams is the Tigers’ leader in tackle and leader on the field this season.

Just sitting back thinking about his journey from undersized walk-on defensive lineman at Texas Southern to being the Tigers’ star linebacker, “crazy” is the best description Jacob Williams can come up with.

Words like “miraculous,” “perseverance” and “conquering” could also come to mind.

But in reality, even a kid who always dreamed bigger than his stature couldn’t have seen this coming.

“I had some doubts, just being a human, thinking the coaches are not going to really notice me or trust me because I came from a D-line position,” said Williams, a 6-foot, 210 junior linebacker. “But it turned out great. I just had to make it where they believed in me. I just had to work my butt off and I just got them to believe in me. I had to make them believe in me.”

He has been trusted so much that Williams is the Tigers’ defensive leader and the soul of the unit. Through the first two games – both losses – Williams is second in the SWAC in tackles with 25 total stops and he is at the top of the conference in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (three for minus-24 yards).

“He missed the second half of last season and our defense didn’t play as well as they did when he was there,” said TSU coach Clarence McKinney. “We are fortunate to be able to have him back. He is the leader of the defense. He is our leading tackler.”

McKinney added, “We ask him to do a lot of things, getting our guys lined up, stopping the run to rushing the passer. He is a special talent and we are excited having him back. I love watching him play ball and do his thing at a high level.”

Williams was on his way to having an impressive season in 2022 before an injury cut it short. He has seemingly picked up where he left off, producing 12 tackles, three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in the narrow overtime loss to Prairie View to open the season. Then Williams led the Tigers with 13 stops this past weekend during a tough 71-3 loss at Toledo.

“It was amazing, going out there and being active with my brothers, people I go to war with,” Williams said after the season-opener against Prairie View. “It was fun. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win. Next time we’ve got to come away with it.”

The Tigers’ defense is expected to be improved under new defensive coordinator Everett Todd. Williams is going to be a big part of that improvement, after shifting from the weakside linebacker spot to the middle where he is still responsible for making plays but now must also get the entire linebacker corp lined up in the right spots.

Williams attributes linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Derrick Mathews with helping make the transition an easy one.

“It’s not too much different,” he said. “Coach D. Mat tries not to make it too complicated for us. So, it hasn’t been a big, big difference playing in the middle. You just have to get a little more physical with them, but it’s kind of the same thing for the most part.”

A big part of Williams’ growth has been because he is a student of the game. He spends extra time working with Mathews going over the playbook and watching film. When he is not at the football facility, he and his twin brother, Isaac, who is a student assistant coach at TSU, spend hours discussing the game plan and how he can get better.

Williams also devotes time to watching NFL greats Ray Lewis and Luke Kuechly, two players he tries to pattern his game after.

“I just watched greats like those two and I just tried to relate to them,” Williams said. “Then also using what Coach D. Mat gives me and he gives me great knowledge of the game. He is one of the best coaches you can ask for at the linebacker position and I’m just thankful for him.”

His coaches in return are thankful for him.

“For this day and age of football, he is the perfect linebacker versus spread offenses,” said McKinney, whose team travels over to Rice this weekend. “He can pressure, he can drop into coverage, he really can do it all. He is an athletic and talented kid. He studies the game, he does a tremendous amount of film work as far as studying his opponent. He is a smart football player.”

Williams is quick to deflect the attention away from himself and turn it to his defensive teammates and the team’s overall goals this season.

“We have a high ceiling,” he said. “We just have to keep working. We have to come to practice and get one percent better every day. We have great players and great coaches. This can be a great, great season.”

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....