It's not often you get a chance to represent your country, especially in football. University of Miami linebacker recruit Travis Williams, however, made the most of his opportunity Saturday representing the red, white and blue in the Team USA vs. The World All-Star Game at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium.
In fact, he didn't wait long to make his presence felt, racing down the field on the opening kickoff and drilling the kick returner for the game's first tackle. Williams went on to start at strongside linebacker along with MVP Mike Hull (Penn State) and Steele Devitto (Boston College). Williams (6-2, 200) finished with a team-leading eight tackles (5 solo) in USA's 17-0 win. Williams (from Lake Taylor High in Norfolk, Virginia) said the experience was "once in a lifetime."
"It was awesome, I enjoyed myself," Williams said. "I played with a great group of fellas and played my part. I made a couple big tackles and did what I needed to. It was a great week down here."
Williams can't wait until he's down here permanently. Considered the nation's 14th best outside linebacker by Rivals.com (44th by ESPN.com), Williams said he still has some work to do in the classroom before can qualify at UM. He said he's working to raise his GPA (currently 2.4) and waiting on the SAT he took last weekend (he needs at least an 820). But he has big plans once he qualifies and arrives at UM in the summer.
"When I visited last weekend, coach [Randy] Shannon basically told me he wanted to see me at every linebacker spot and which ever one I felt most comfortable with, the one I could help the team most, that's where I would be," Williams said. "Personally, I like playing the [strongside linebacker]. I feel comfortable in coverage, or bringing pressure off the edge."
Williams spent the week rooming with future Hurricanes teammate and team captain Keion Payne. He said when he gets to UM, he's supposed to room with running back Storm Johnson, who has been enrolled at UM since last week. All week, Williams caught the eye of Team USA coach Chris Merritt, who coached LSU-bound running back Jakhari Gore this past season at Miami Columbus.
"He's a little bit of an athletic freak," Merritt said. "He's aggressive, covers a lot of ground quickly. He fits a lot of Miami linebackers of old, the type I grew up watching. I picture him as an outside linebacker guy, dropping in coverage. He can hit now, too.
"One day of practice this week we were doing some head-on hitting. I had to smile at him a couple times and tell him to pull off the reigns a little bit. He's a kid when he wants to bring it, he brings it. He can play with fire."
Williams certainly did when he was little. He actually burned down his grandmother's home playing with matches at the age of three. No one was seriously injured.
He's since saved his most destructive behavior for the football field. He had 72 sacks in his high school career and earned first team honors in the Virginia "Tidewater area" his junior and senior seasons.
A FEW MORE TIDBITS...
> I caught up with the coach of Seantrel Henderson Friday morning and he said the one thing he has to congratulate UM coaches on is there "persistence." He said while every school in the country came in and offered, few kept recruiting Henderson as hard as UM did. He said the fact Henderson's parents are moving to whatever city their son chooses gives the Canes "a real chance."
"Seantrel is a smart young man," said Mike Scanlon, who has coached the 6-8, 340-pound Parade Magazine National Player of the Year at Cretin-Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn. for the past three seasons.
"A lot of his decision is going to be based on his relationship with his position coach. I told him, everybody is going to be nice to you during the recruiting process. But what is he going to be like when you get there, when your sitting in his office, breaking down film? I think he's looking for somebody who is not only to give him an opportunity to play at a high level, but take his abilities to an even higher level."
Scanlon said he doesn't think the coaching changes at USC or Notre Dame put either of those programs at a disadvantage and said he has no inkling of where Henderson is headed. Florida, Oklahoma and Ohio State are Henderson's other favorites. He will announce his decision between 3 and 7 p.m. on CBS College Sports TV with analyst Tom Lemming.
> How desperate is UM basketball coach Frank Haith for some positivity? In a team meeting this week he had his players write something positive about each other on paper and had them read it in front of the rest of their teammates.
One description that clearly didn't show up on Haith's sheet for any of UM's seniors was "great vocal leaders." "I think what this team is [searching for] is that great leadership," Haith said. "I'm not sure we've had that this year. Our seniors are not great talkers. James [Dews], Cyrus [McGowan] and Dwayne [Collins] aren't great talkers. They're more lead by example type guys."
Haith talked a lot Friday about how difficult his team's ACC schedule has been. He pointed out once again how four of his team's first six ACC games in January have been on the road and how after Sunday's afternoon tip with Virginia Tech, UM has to get on a flight and ready for a game at Wake Forest on Tuesday. "That's not exactly easy when you consider the Demon Deacons have three days to prepare," Haith said. Hard to blame Haith for feeling the way he does. But it's life in the ACC.
> One comical side note: UM's sports info office made a tiny mistake when it sent out a press release regarding its Save Haiti campaign. It read: "In future games, the Hurricanes will be sporting a patch on their uniforms in support of Save Haith Saturday..." We know they meant Save Haiti. But it was still funny. UM sent a correction shortly afterward.