A stepladder may be needed to see it, but 6-foot, 5-inch Connor Williams says there’s a chip on his shoulder.
His is a classic case of being overlooked in recruiting, dismissed as a three-star prospect at Coppell and glossed over in mentions of Texas’ best gets of the 2015 signing class.
Yet against Texas Tech on Thursday, Williams will claim a distinction shared by only one other member of this freshman class. Assuming right guard Patrick Vahe does not return from a knee injury, Williams, the left tackle, and receiver John Burt, will be the only freshmen to have started all 11 games. Oh, and punter Michael Dickson, too.
“I really seem to thrive on the fact I’ve always been the underdog,” Williams said. “I haven’t been high in the rankings and no one has ever put me on their lists or anything.”
Williams checked in at No. 53 in the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55 list of the state’s top seniors last year. He was difficult to evaluate because he played tight end early in high school and didn’t transition to the line until his senior season.
Searching for positives on the nation’s No. 94-ranked offense, Williams stands out along with Vahe, Burt and sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman. They’re all part of the solution on an offense riddled with questions about the future, such as what scheme Texas will employ and what coordinator will oversee it. Additionally, there is speculation about the job status of Williams’ position coach, Joe Wickline, whose two-year contract expires after this season.
No matter what happens, Williams figures to be a part of it. He enrolled in school in January and was immediately ticketed for the starting spot at right tackle. Late in preseason camp, he slid over to the left side and supplanted senior Marcus Hutchins. Since then, Williams has received consistent praise. Vahe said that on average Williams grades out highest among the team’s linemen. In one game, Williams scored a 94. He can’t recall the opponent, but thinks it may have been Iowa State.
Last month, play-caller Jay Norvell told reporters that Williams has the makeup to be a team captain.
“For him to be able to play left tackle, and for us not to really worry about him, is really rare,” Norvell said.
Thursday night, 22 seniors, including 10 regular contributors, will suit up for their final game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Among them are two of Williams’ line brethren — center Taylor Doyle and left guard Sedrick Flowers.
As seniors prepare for life post-Texas, it won’t be long before the team’s freshmen take over the program. Other options are slim. In the junior class, only seven players are getting serious playing time — safety Dylan Haines, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, tight end Caleb Bluiett, defensive end Bryce Cottrell, defensive tackle Paul Boyette, right tackle Kent Perkins and quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Roughly the same number of sophomores are seeing the field. This all stems from a weak 2013 recruiting class that has netted the Longhorns three players who are producing this season, compared to eight who have left the program. Though the jury is still out, the 2014 class appears to be only a marginal upgrade, producing little beyond starting quarterback Jerrod Heard, backup defensive tackle Poona Ford, starting safety Jason Hall and running back D’Onta Foreman.
Compare that with this year’s class. Williams is among 10 or 11 members who should get meaningful playing time on Thursday.
“I think we all saw last year there was room for improvement here, and we all had a chance to play and we were skinny on the depth chart,” Williams said.
And the line should be in good shape with Williams.
“He’ll be a great player here,” Flowers said. “Not just a good player, but a great player.”