April 10, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Marshall Coach Doc Holliday first began recruiting Ricardo Williams, the Homestead, Fla., football star was catching passes.
Now, Williams is chasing passers.
“He was a 195-pound wide receiver in high school,” Holliday said of the player known as “Rico.” “Now, being a defensive end, he’s gained a lot of weight, but his athleticism is still there. He brings a bigger body to that position and we think that’s going to help us a lot.”
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Williams – he also was a pass-rushing end in high school -- has gotten an edge in the Thundering Herd’s spring practice, too. With returning starter Ra’Shawde Myers sidelined with a knee injury in recent workouts, Williams has stepped up to run with the first team defense.
Williams left Miami (Fla.) after two years, transferring to Marshall last summer. He’s one of two ACC transfers who sat out last season in the Herd program, joining Miami native and Virginia Tech transfer cornerback Donaldven Manning.
Williams redshirted in 2011 with the Hurricanes, where he was the third-ranked signee by most observers in that year’s recruiting class. According to the 2012 participation charts, he played in only one game as a ‘Canes redshirt freshman, then practiced but couldn’t play after his move here last season.
“I still do have a lot of rust,” Williams said after a recent Herd practice. “I’m just trying to fight my way into football shape and a football state of mind again, because I’ve been away from the game for a long time it seems. I’m just trying to get out there and get my mind back that way and focus on football.
“It’s big to have an opportunity to be with the ‘ones.’ I’m just trying to learn the defensive system and take advantage of the reps I’m getting.”
The redshirt junior was a big-time prospect at Homestead Senior, where he was a teammate of Herd junior cornerback Keith Baxter. Williams was the No. 12-ranked defensive end prospect nationally by Rivals.com, and he had a school-record 48 career sacks (three seasons).
He wants to play a similar role for the Herd, which got a second-chance opportunity at Williams after being among his top suitors back in 2010, when he also had offers from Florida State, North Carolina, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Washington, USF, Syracuse, UCF and West Virginia, among others.
Marshall got one of the four visits he took, along with Miami, UNC and Texas Tech.
The second time around for Huntington?
“I’ve got a few friends on this team, like Keith Baxter, my teammate,” Williams said of a Herd roster that includes about 20 south Florida natives. “This was one of the places I seriously considered before I went to Miami.
“The defensive line coach here now was here then (Sean Cronin, who left after the 2010 season but returned in 2013), when they were recruiting me, and I felt like they knew me here already. I felt more comfortable here than somewhere else, where I didn’t really know anybody.
“I thought it was a chance to come in and get a step ahead, a better fit for me than some other places. I thought I’d be comfortable playing the scheme and how they would use me because there’s a certain way I like to play. I liked this defense.”
Williams went from 195 to 235 pounds by the time he’d signed with the Hurricanes. Holliday said the defensive end hasn’t lost anything athletically while adding strength and size.
The Herd coach also likes the Herd’s pass rush with Gary Thompson and Arnold Blackmon at the “fix” end spot, and Myers and Williams manning the other side.
“Rico’s been getting to run with that first group because Myers is hurt, and that helps,” Holliday said. “He came in here -- a tremendous kid – and went to work every day on the scout team last year. He got a lot of reps there throughout the year, and the bowl practice was huge, so he got some extra work there.
“He’s had an opportunity this spring. He’s a talented guy, very athletic and a guy we’re excited about and we expect big things from him.”
Williams expects the same, after trying to be patient last season as the Herd made a five-win improvement and won the Military Bowl over Maryland.
“It was tough sitting out but you deal with it,” the 22-year-old Williams said. “You want to be a part of something like that, winning 10 games, the first time in what, 11 years? We went to a bowl, beat an ACC team.
“It’s something I wanted to be part of, but that’s the way it goes. I feel this year can be even more special. There’s a lot of talent here, a lot of guys coming back from last season, and I just want to be part of something big this year.
“It seems like a long time since I played. Right now, I’m just trying to fight my way back, get some snaps under my belt, you know?”