LINCOLN, Neb. – When Nebraska safety Kieron Williams arrived at his locker after Saturday’s game, he flipped out his iPhone and stared at the green message icon.
Awaiting him were 128 text messages.
“And that was just text messages,” he said, scrolling through his phone. “That’s not even Twitter. Crazy, man.”
After two games, Williams has become Nebraska’s best surprise. He leads the team in tackles (15) and is tied with senior safety Nate Gerry for interceptions (two).
Last season as a sophomore, Williams accounted for just seven tackles in 13 games.
And now he’s scrolling through 128 texts of congratulations on a 52-17 win.
“It’s just a blessing to go out and play the game that you love,” Williams said.
Last year, Williams rode the bench behind freshman Aaron Williams. But after Aaron Williams got hurt in December, Kieron stepped into the safety role.
Now, the Williams’ split time at safety. And twice now, when Nebraska needed a boost most, Kieron has been there.
Last week, it was on the final play of the third quarter. Fresno State was driving while trailing, 21-10, and threatening to cut the lead to four. When a ball bounced off a Fresno State receivers hands, Williams was there to catch his first career interception.
Two plays later, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong passed 57 yards to wide receiver Alonzo Moore for a touchdown, and Nebraska could relax a little.
On Saturday, it was seemingly the same thing.
Late in the third quarter, when the Huskers offense was sputtering and Wyoming had the ball while trailing, 17-7, with a chance to cut the lead to three points, a pass bounced off a Wyoming players’ hands and into Williams’. This time, Williams turned, saw an opening, and returned it for his first career touchdown. And Nebraska could collectively breathe more easily.
“The ball just seemed to fall in my hands, and I was able to make a play on it,” Williams said. “It’s a blessing to be able to make plays like that.”
Last year, the Huskers secondary was ridiculed, taking the brunt of the blame for a few losses.
This year, things are different. The secondary now has seven interceptions in two games, putting Nebraska in the plus margin for turnovers, a stat Nebraska hasn’t fared well in for nearly a decade.
“We were just able to communicate and just work together and we’re just working together as brothers,” Williams said, donning a customized ‘Lockdown U’ shirt, a name the Huskers secondary gave themselves before the season.
Nebraska coach Mike Riley likes that his defensive players have good ball skills and put themselves in positions for interceptions.
The only thing defensive coordinator Mark Banker is in need of now, he said, is some fumbles.
Williams’ interception for a score was his first since high school, he said. And maybe that’s fitting: That return likely solidifies his Blackshirt and his place in this Nebraska defense before next week’s game.
Six days from now, the secondary will be tested probably more than any other time in the Riley era when it faces No. 24 Oregon, which features a high powered offense.
Nebraska has a chance to put itself back on the map nationally, and show the Big Ten the Huskers won’t be an easy win this season.
Williams is ready for Oregon. He grew up watching the Ducks. And no, he didn’t really ever expect to be playing them.
But maybe, afterwards, he’ll have texts that will require a response.