Illinois Fighting Illini redshirt freshman Isaiah Williams is very reminiscent of former player Aaron Bailey. Just like Bailey, Williams was a highly rated recruit who chose Illinois over some blue blood programs partially because, in Champaign, they were not going to ask him to shift from quarterback to another position.
The school of thought was the Illini would provide opportunities at QB that other schools would not. Bailey never made the switch to wide receiver, a move that many college football pundits thought would be mutually beneficial. Instead Bailey opted to transfer and he never had much of a college football career. Williams is doing the opposite.
“Since I’ve taken over there’s been some transition obviously in the quarterback room with BP, Brandon Peters, getting the majority of the workload during the spring with Isaiah Williams,” said new Illini head coach Bret Bielema.
“Isaiah switched to wide receiver after the conclusion of spring ball. It’s been a great asset for us. Not only is he a good football player, I think he’s an exceptional person, great leadership qualities. He’s lightning in a bottle, just a very, very active, natural receiver.
“So I think that simple transition right there made us better at the wide receiver position by transition from the quarterback.”
Williams set the Illinois single-game rushing record by a quarterback with 192 yards in his first career start against Rutgers last year and finished second on the team in rushing yards.
While the St. Louis native impressed with his legs last season, he just didn’t get it done with this arm, at all, in 2020. The passing game is going to be critical for the Illini this season, as they’ll really need an effective air attack to help keep opposing defenses honest, and not able to stack the run.
It’s a Bielema team, and one where offensive line is the strongest position group, they will have a consistent, solid rushing attack.
The defense is very suspect though, so the O will have to do the best they can to keep the D off the field. Isaiah Williams played receiver for the first time in the 2019 Redbox Bowl loss to California.
“I think what we’re getting here is really a five star wide receiver that instantly brings great ball skills,” said Bielema.
“He’s been studying defensive backs the past three, four years, and now he’s playing receiver, so he’s got a built in advantage over other players and it’s just the way he’s wired, extremely talented, extremely competitive, blessed with tremendous skill sets.
“He’s a very special player.”
Leading receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (Jacksonville Jaguars) is gone, as his brother, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebehe (Kansas State) and Ricky Smalling, but fourth-leading receiver Casey Washington returns, as does Miami transfer Brian Hightower and Donny Navarro.
Notre Dame transfer Jafar Armstrong will prove a boost as well.
Georgia transfer Luke Ford is expected to live up to his recruiting hype this year, and have a more developed role, which should also provide a boost. Additionally, another quarterback made a position switch in spring ball, with Coran Taylor shifting to DB.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.Follow paulmbanks