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Maturity helps Williams stand out vs. Navy

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sophomore linebacker Ishaq Williams ran down the field pumping his fist and clapping his hands as sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt rumbled towards the endzone – and he had a reason to.

Williams had caused the fumble that Tuitt was returning for an Irish score during Notre Dame’s 50-10 win over Navy on Saturday. He was finally having fun.

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native said it was the most fun he had playing football since he was a little kid. Williams racked up four total tackles (including three solo), a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. His performance caught the eye of Irish coach Brian Kelly, who called Williams’ performance his best.

“There’s a maturity that just comes with being here and getting older and growing up and hearing the same message,” Kelly said. “I will say this, the expectations have been high and he is starting to meet those. He is nowhere near he needs to be. It has to be a consistent thing for him but he’s making good progress.

“His development has been such that it’s already put him in a position to be on the field and pass rush in situations but we saw that this spring. The Navy game did not bring that to our attention.”

The six-foot-five, 255-pound linebacker was recruited to Notre Dame as a defensive end out of Lincoln High School before being moved to outside linebacker.

“I’m not satisfied, I just have to keep on getting better,” Williams said. “As far as expectations, I feel like I’m my toughest critic.”

While Williams said he still has work to do at linebacker, graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said he has improved.

“He’s a really good pass rusher and he’s really matured as well,” graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. “He’s starting to know his role. He’s starting to lead more by example.”

Lewis-Moore said the front seven does not place specific expectations for Williams from week to week but have an overarching goal.

“We except to dominate. We want to play hard, we want to play fast, we want to play aggressive,” Lewis-Moore said. “We expect that out of Ishaq and Ishaq expects that out of us.”

Kelly attributed Williams’ jump in production to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s work with the linebacker.

“I think Coach Diaco has done a great job of mentoring him, as well. I think there’s a great relationship there of trust, and I think Coach has done a great job of bringing him up along the way. It’s what you expect from young guys. You want to see them take that next step. I think we are seeing him take that next step,” Kelly said.

While Williams’ performance in the opener was an eye-opener for many Irish fans, Lewis-Moore said it was a sign of things to come.

“Ishaq has evolved in this game and I can’t wait to see where it goes from now,” Lewis-Moore said.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu