Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder was looking to spark his anemic offense when he turned to 17-year-old freshman Steven Williams Jr. during last weekend’s game against North Carolina.
What he found was his new starting quarterback this week.
Williams directed three scoring drives, one on a beautifully thrown 71-yard scoring pass, and had a 19-yard scramble in the Monarchs’ 53-23 loss . That earned him his first start for the Monarchs (2-1) on Saturday at No. 13 Virginia Tech.
“When I decided to make the change right before halftime, it was because we didn’t have any energy,” Wilder said, having tried both Jordan Hoy and Blake LaRussa at quarterback this year before turning to Williams. The Monarchs trailed 39-7 and their only points had come on Isaiah Harper’s 100-yard kickoff return.
Williams provided a spark almost immediately, converting a third-and-11 with the 19-yard run to the Tar Heels’ 5 on a draw play, then fumbled the ball away two plays later. He played the entire second half and because of the energy he gave to the offense, Wilder named him the starter going forward once the game was over.
Despite Williams’ youth, Wilder believes he’s ready.
“Your quarterback has to be the guy,” Wilder said. “It’s a lot to ask for a freshman, but that’s what he’s going to need to be. He’s going to need to be the guy for this football team, and I think he will be.”
Williams thinks there’s been too much focus on his age and lack of experience.
“I’m more mature than they think. I’m wiser than everyone thinks,” he said.
While acknowledging that he lays in bed at night thinking about Saturday, Williams also prides himself on remaining on an even keel, a trait he finds extremely important as the player everyone else is looking to for guidance.
“I never let anything around me rattle me or anything. I always try to be calm and deliver the ball,” he said.
The Hokies (3-0) don’t have much film to review, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster liked what he saw.
“He looked like he kept his composure pretty good against Carolina. Now Carolina blitzed early and quite a bit, not just him but the other quarterbacks, and was able to get pressure on the quarterback. I think when he came in, they did a couple things running him a little bit that may have tried to slow things down,” Foster said.
“We have to pick our spots. Obviously we can’t just be blitz happy which then maybe puts us out there in one on one situations where all of sudden they can create a play and make something happen,” Foster said.
The key for Old Dominion, Wilder said, is getting everyone else to up their game.
“The biggest thing I reminded them is everybody’s got to point the finger right at themselves, starting with me,” he said. “We all got to rally together and get better as a team. You have to own that when it happens.”
Foster is interested to see what the Monarchs dial up for Williams.
“Obviously I’m expecting to see some quarterback runs or the ball in his hands a few times,” he said. “He’s that kind of athlete. But then he’s also got enough people around him that he doesn’t have to rely on him exclusively.
“He’s got a good corps of receivers. He can throw the ball well. He’s got a live arm.”
And, Williams said, the confidence that his team will rally behind him.
“Getting guys to play for me,” he said when asked what his biggest strength is. “I always get guys to play for me. They know I’m going to give them 100 percent and they’re going to give it to me back.”