Marshall football: Williams has something to prove
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Purdue University is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive southwest from Fort Wayne, Ind., where Marshall punter Tyler Williams attended R. Nelson Snider High School.
It might as well have been a world away.
When Williams takes the field with the Thundering Herd against Purdue at 3:15 p.m. Saturday (Big Ten Network), he'll line up against a team that, despite the short distance, didn't offer him a scholarship out of high school.
But the Boilermakers weren't special. Neither did Indiana. Or Ball State. Or Indiana State. Or anyone else, for that matter.
The Herd's walk-on true freshman punter is fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision averaging 47.53 yards a punt. And he admits he'll walk into Saturday's game with a chip on his shoulder, just like he walks into every college game he plays.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "There's a little bit of 'I'll prove you wrong' with people who say you're not good enough or you're not a Division I punter. You always have that little chip that says, 'We'll see. I'll show you.' I've always known I could. I wouldn't have pushed myself to get to this level if I didn't know I could do it."
It wasn't like Williams was a complete unknown at Snider. He was a first-team all-conference and all-Indiana selection as a senior, averaging 39.2 yards a punt. That's after a junior season averaging 34.5 yards a punt.
Yet he emailed every FBS and FCS school in the country out of high school, and no one nibbled.
Was it that he didn't participate in the kicking camps that offer extra exposure? Was it the idea that, as Williams said, southern schools recruit south and northern schools recruit south? Who knows? But Williams was determined to land on a Division I roster.
"I knew I had a Division I leg and that's all I was going for," Williams said.
He decided to head south, spending a season at Atlanta Sports Academy, which is where he got the invitation to walk on to Marshall. He arrived in January, but a shaky start disguised the ability he'd show later.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday wondered during the first week of preseason camp whether he had someone who could punt effectively. Yet when Williams wrested the starting job away from Austin Dumas, the switch flipped.
"He's such a tremendous kid," Holliday said. "He changed field position totally twice Saturday and that's what good punters do."
Against Rice, Williams averaged 50.8 yards a punt, including punts of 62 and 66 yards. The 66-yarder tied Brian Dowler's 1991 punt for eighth longest in Marshall history. Three of Williams' punts landed inside Rice's 20. That performance earned him Conference USA special teams player of the week honors.
Holliday said Williams has improved dramatically from those rough first few days of camp.
"He's become more sound with his technique and his fundamentals and become more consistent with his drop and his steps and things like that," he said. "He's become a more consistent punter. He's got 'it.' He goes in there and finds a way to get it done."
Yet Williams refuses to rest on those laurels, even in his award-winning punts last week, he found areas to improve.
"That's my mentality," he said. "Nothing's really good enough and that's how I feel I've gotten better. You can't just say, 'Oh that's good enough.' That's the mindset you can't have."
The mindset he does have will soon rectify one glaring hole in Williams' resume - his lack of a scholarship.
"He'll have one in January," Holliday said.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.