Austin Williams Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch
August 28, 2018 9:46:03 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State lost its best receiver, Donald Gray, last year in its seventh game; it lost a significant secondary option, Gabe Myles, in its second game then again in its sixth. The Bulldogs were scrambling for options at wide receiver and Austin Williams would have been a good one -- if only he were available.
The freshman from Ocean Springs redshirted last season while the MSU passing attack fell to 118th in the nation by yards per attempt (6.1), all while those in the program at the time raved about his performance in practice. As MSU looks for more firepower in its 2018 receiving corps, Williams projects to be a significant part of that after a redshirt season he says was productive.
Williams' outlook on that redshirt season depends on who you ask.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said at Southeastern Conference Media Days there was a meeting early last season, in which then coach Dan Mullen told the group of players that ultimately redshirted of his intent to do just that. He asked if any of them had a problem with it; Fitzgerald said Williams was the only one to object, telling Mullen he was good enough to play.
Williams said that didn't happen, thinking it was a story that got twisted through exaggerated retellings into something it wasn't. As he looks back on that redshirt season, he harbors no ill will.
"Obviously I wanted to be on the field, but I learned from it and grew from it," Williams said. "Being a competitor, you want to be out there. Looking back on it, I'm happy. I have four more years to play for Coach (Joe) Moorhead and (offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Luke) Getsy.
"I have another year to learn and another year of school for free. Can't complain about that."
With that extra time, Williams has done two things. First, he's done everything possible to make himself a shoe-in for heavy playing time this season.
"He's done great, he's had a great summer," Getsy said. "He's a smart kid and he's as hungry as anybody in that room. He wants to learn ball. He's done a great job of asking questions, wanting more meeting time, wanting more film things to watch. He's a student of the game and you can't have enough guys like that."
Then, he impressed his quarterback as he went.
"He's an extremely great player. From the moment he got here he's really been working his butt off and really grinding," Fitzgerald said. "Extremely talented route-runner, great hands. You'll see him on the field a lot."
All that's left to determine is the exact position.
Williams was listed in MSU's week one depth chart as a slot receiver, the H position, on the first string alongside Deddrick Thomas. However, Moorhead said it is the coaching staff's philosophy to crosstrain receivers through its three positions and Williams proved one of the best at that, making the short list of players that will get reps at all three positions in practice.
Moorhead said he sees Williams as a slot receiver above all else, but will continue the crosstraining in case Williams is needed. Williams is perfectly willing in any circumstance.
All he wants is to play. After waiting a year, he will do so; if Getsy's hunch proves correct, he will do so successfully.
"On the field, he's as tough as nails, too. You can win a lot of football games with guys like that."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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