The University of Washington football team plays USC

Washington defensive back Cameron Williams returns one of two interceptions he had in a Sept. 28, 2019 game against USC. The former Bakersfield High two-way star opened his true freshman season as a starter for the Huskies.

The exhilarating highs and crushing lows of major college football hit Cameron Williams with equal force in his first season at the University of Washington.

Showcasing the athleticism that made him a two-way standout at Bakersfield High School, Williams seemed primed for a quick star turn, earning the starting free safety spot for as a true freshman on a Husky team that entered 2019 ranked 13th in the country.

Once he took the field, there was plenty to celebrate for Williams, who at year's end was named a Second-Team All-American by Pro Football Focus.

Though he fell short of his preseason goal of seven interceptions, Williams did record three, which tied for the second most on the team. This included a two-interception performance in a 28-14 win over USC on Sept. 28.

But the season also provided its share of humbling moments.

In that same game against USC, Williams bit hard on a play-action fake and surrendered a 44-yard touchdown pass.

He made a similar mistake the following week against Stanford, where he was caught drifting towards the middle of the field as a receiver ran uncontested down the sideline for a 42-yard second-quarter touchdown in what became a 23-13 Husky loss.

Those mistakes resulted in Williams losing his starting job, and he didn't play a snap the following week against Arizona.

"That sucked, honestly," Williams said of the benching. "I overthought a lot of stuff and that led me to make a lot of mistakes I wasn't supposed to. But it's a learning process, and you have to respond a certain way.

"You can make something that's bad become very good and I took (the benching) as being good in a way."

Instead of sulking, Williams attempted to fine-tune little aspects of his game. He started by watching film of teammates like senior Myles Bryant, studying their tendencies and trying to implement the strongest parts of their game into his.

He also had to work on playing within the system of defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, saying an impulse to freelance at times got him in trouble.

"I had a tendency of looking at the quarterback in certain coverages, not minding my own business, trying to do other people’s jobs," he said.

After not playing against Arizona, he was reinserted into the rotation as a reserve the following week. Eventually, Williams improved enough to regain his starting spot in the Las Vegas Bowl, recording three tackles and a tackle for loss in a 38-7 win over Boise State. 

This attention to detail and drive to get better is something Paul Golla saw in Williams when he coached him at BHS, and the veteran coach knew the freshman DB was well-equipped to handle the ups and downs of power-five football.

"Your freshman year of college is by far the hardest year," said Golla, now the coach at Garces. "He went from dominating to all of the sudden playing with grown adults. Everything changes. I’ve had a lot of late-night conversations with kids that want to come home, and never did I get that out of Cam. Cam knew it was going to be a process.

"The work that he puts in that nobody sees makes him different. I guarantee that he’s doing stuff that nobody knows about when it comes to his footwork and studying."

Focusing on the minutia is one of the only options Williams has at the moment.

The COVID-19 outbreak, which had its U.S. origins traced to Seattle, forced Williams and his teammates to stay inside "all day every day," and resulted in the cancelation of all spring practices. Williams has been away from the team for over a month, currently staying with his family in Bakersfield

Despite missing important reps, Williams believes he's in good position to play at a high level when he returns to school, which he hopes to do by early June. Expecting a move to strong safety, he anticipates a big jump in his second year playing for Lake, who was promoted to head coach following Chris Petersen's December resignation.

After falling short of his seven-interception goal in 2019, Williams is feeling more ambitions, hoping to grab eight picks in 2020, and says the work won't stop until he finds a consistency that was lacking a season ago.

"As a freshman, I guess you go in thinking you're supposed to know everything and you don't," Williams said. "I feel like I got comfortable when I became a starter but that's all in the learning process. I can't rest because I know someone else is out there working hard, so I have to do something every day to get better.

"I know what to expect now and I feel like I can have a way better season than last year."

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