It hasn’t been the season that Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver C.J. Williams expected, not for himself or the team.
The Badgers currently stand at 5-4 amid a two-game losing streak, including a tough defeat at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers, who were winless in conference play until last Saturday.
As for Williams, the sophomore receiver transferred from USC after limited playing time behind a talented core of wideouts, hoping to play a prominent role in offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s Air Raid system.
But, it’s been a learning process for Williams, who has seen at least 24 snaps in every game this season, including a season-high 68 snaps against the Hoosiers with starter Chimere Dike injured.
“Obviously it’s all a process,” Williams said this week. “Like you said, I think everything in life is a process. Just like it was at USC for me and it was in the transfer portal for me and then also being here, it’s a process.”
However, in the midst of a variety of change with the Badgers offense, one thing hasn’t wavered: Williams’s killer mentality of never being complacent.
“I’m not completely content with the situation [of losing]. Obviously, I’m not happy. I never want to be happy with where I’m at, just being where I’m at,” Williams said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be content where I’m at. “Whether I catch 100 balls, win a Biletnikoff [award], whatever, I’m always going to want more.
“And I think that’s what kind of makes me who I am, the competitor I am. So with that, just looking for the opportunities to increase and all that, different things. But with that, I got to work harder, right. I got to work harder, got to put myself in a better position.”
With that mindset, Williams has looked to embrace the grind at a new destination, learning from his family and prior coaches to think about the bigger picture and the work that’s required to achieve those goals.
“I mean, it’s the grind, right? It’s just falling in love with it every single day. And I think that was the biggest thing for me was like, through spring ball, through fall camp, right? Even if I have a great practice, it’s a great week, great spring, like falling in love with the fact that I can come out here and do better the next day, do better the next week,” Williams said. “And I think that’s kind of how I’ve learned to embrace the culture of this place, Wisconsin and football in general, and just, I think the way my family kind of installed it into me and my coaches at a young age is know there’s always going to be someone out there working harder than you and someone doing better than you.”
“So kind of looking forward to the fact that that’s who I’m competing with, someone that may be in Florida right now, someone that may be in University Alabama or even in know that’s who I’m competing with. Not even just myself, but obviously just trying to get better every single day. I think that’s the way I’ve embraced it and kind of kept that goal, the NFL in mind.”
However, in the mix of consistently vying for more, Williams has also preached the importance of patience as a younger player.
“What I’m kind of learning throughout the process is just to be patient. That’s something I think young guys like myself, I’m only in my second season, right. I think that’s something that we all need to learn,” Williams shared. “Obviously, you want everything right there going forward, right there in front of you, but for a lot of people, that’s not what’s going to happen. So just being patient with the process and just working and doing my due diligence and just learning something every single day, coming out here and getting better and loving the game, I think that’s something that I’ve kind of learned throughout this season is right.”
“If I’m going here and going to harp on the amount of reps I’m getting in the games or harp on the amount of balls, I’m not going to be happy with all these different things. But obviously coming out here and loving the game, just knowing how much I love it as a person. I think that helped me a lot.”
That all came to fruition on Saturday, where the wideout saw a career-high 68 snaps, playing nearly the entire game in the loss.
However, it was a bittersweet feeling for the wideout, as the Badgers lost in the outing.
“It feels good, obviously, to get more opportunities to play on the field. Ultimately not extremely happy, though, the end result of the game. All that matters is kind of winning football games and whether that means I’m on the field a lot or not on the field at all, that’s the end goal,” Williams said.
“Obviously wasn’t happy that Chim (WR Chimere Dike) was hurt, but just was able to step in and kind of be that kind of filler guy for him. And I think that just comes with the preparation that I had at hand and kind of the opportunity that to send it and stuff for me as well.”
In the loss, Williams ran 44 routes, but just saw two targets, catching one pass for nine yards and ranking fifth on the team in targets.
While the wideout felt that nothing really changed in his preparation, despite being the starter, Williams wished that he could’ve started faster, leading to more output earlier for his team.
“I don’t think there’s really been a change in my mindset or my focus really. I think I come out there to play with my heart every single time,” Williams said. “That’s something that I think kind of is able to show a little bit more when I start in the game and kind of get to fill it out earlier on.”
Reflecting back on his first year in Madison, however, Williams feels the growth has certainly been there, beginning with his feel for the game, as well as his ability to separate at the stem of his route.
“My feel for the game, I feel like, has gotten a lot better. Just in the offense in general knowing what to hit and don’t, knowing what leverage the DB is trying to play. And I think that’s something that I’ve improved on with my release game. Just man coverage, things like that. I think my breaks, getting in and out of the routes, moving a lot more fluid, more natural,” Williams said.
“Something I really pride myself on is separation, whether it’s at the top or around the deep, doing it either other way sometimes. Maybe you’re not going to win the release, maybe the DB is going to guess right. But, I think having all those other aspects of your game or your route run technique, whether it’s your vertical aspect or the top of your route, I think that all kind of helps and goes into just good separation.”
In the offseason, Williams has a bevy of goals on his mind: improving his receiving skills, blocking skills, and becoming a more well-rounded athlete.
“In the offseason, I’m going to try and improve all facets of my game, whether it do be the releases or my break, different things like that which are more game specific, attacking the football, I think even getting stronger and faster, looking to put some weight on, looking to increase my speed and just from a better athlete overall, I think that’s going to help me in the long term,” Williams said. “And then also perimeter blocking is something that I think we stress a lot on this team and I want to improve on a lot. I want to be a guy and go in there and just lock my guy down whenever I’m called.”
But, for now, there’s only one true goal on Williams’s mind: winning, and he’s looking to do so in every game remaining this season.
“This season specifically, [our goal is to] win out. That’s all that matters,” Williams said. “F— win out. Sorry, excuse my language, but win football games, that’s all that matters.”
“We got three more guaranteed left. Hopefully win those three, we get a very good bowl game and go win that. That’s the end goal is to win those four games and even maybe for that Big Ten Championship if something miracle happens. But win out, that’s the goal.”
It’s certainly been a tough year for Williams and the Badgers, who have undergone a number of changes and some unexpected injuries, but the wideout’s mindset and unique mentality hasn’t wavered, which he’ll look to continue applying in the offseason.
Currently at 13 catches and 125 yards on the season, Williams will look to aid his team on their goal of winning out this season, while likely seeing a good amount of snaps over the final weeks.