Redshirt freshman OLB Manny Williams
Manny Williams had an uphill battle when he arrived on Pitt's campus in 2008 after knee surgery ended his senior season at Clairton, Pa. High School a few weeks early, and the Panthers were loaded at the linebacker spot.
As a redshirt freshman this season for Pittsburgh, Manny Williams is much better off.
"Everything's going good for me,'' Williams said. "After the spring, when I was still learning and feeling my way through each practice, it was tough. But I feel a lot more comfortable now. I think I'm playing better every day, and that's what I wanted to do. I'm much more confident about my game nowadays.
"College is way different from high school, of course. It was a tough transition for me to come in here and play linebacker as a true freshman. I was coming off that knee surgery and trying to get adjusted to the speed and everything like that, and it was tough. But I'm healthy now and doing all right.''
Williams did just about everything for the Class A Bears, a constant PIAA title contender during his career, but his position with the Panthers wasn't as certain from the outset. The 6-foot-1 Williams weighed about 200 pounds and was slated to be a safety.
That changed in the spring, 2009, as Williams began to physically mature and work with Pitt's strength and conditioning staff. Now, he weighs 225 pounds and much more prepared to handle college football's rigors.
"Everybody was so fast, big and strong,'' Williams said. "That's every player on offense and defense, so it was a real big adjustment for me. But I worked as hard as I could to improve my speed, strength and conditioning, and I'm much more prepared for everything than I was a year ago.''
Williams has been working at weak-side linebacker since the spring.
"I believe I'm pretty athletic, and I think I'm a little quicker even though I weigh a lot more than I did when I got here,'' Williams said. "I've been playing the weak side, behind Max Gruder, and I feel like I'm doing all right. I'm still making a couple mistakes here and there, but I try not to make the same ones twice.
"And Max, he's been a big help to me. He's been here a year longer than me, so he's a little ahead of the game in that regard. He pushes me real hard, and I try to push him. He also makes sure I don't get down on myself. Max is going to be a great player this year, and he's already a real strong team leader.''
As a weak-side linebacker at Pitt, Williams has run-stopping duties, as well as those in the Panthers' pass defense.
"We have a lot of responsibilities, in the passing game and running game,'' Williams said. "But I've watched a lot of film since I got here, and that has helped a lot. When I first got here, I just watched it to see how other people played. But there's a lot more to it than that.
"You have to watch how the O-line is blocking. Their tendencies and the things that the other offensive players do, the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. There's a whole lot to it, a lot more than what I thought went into watching film. But that's all part of learning how to play college football.''
Williams put in a lot of extra time in the film room and also had a hard-working summer in the weight room, and he believed that helped him handle the physicality of training camp.
"I just wanted to contribute as much as I can and help us make a big impact in the Big East,'' Williams said. "I want to get in on our defense as much as possible, but I'll play special teams for sure. I'm on punt and kickoff return coverage, so I'll definitely be on the field this year.''
And it's a good bet that won't be Williams' only contribution.