Forget the traditional quarterback rating or any newer version. Grambling head coach Doug Williams had his own standard for evaluating if freshman quarterback D.J. Williams would be ready to play in the season opener against Alcorn State after winning a three-man competition for the Tigers’ QB job.
“The most important thing there was to check his socks, and make sure they’re not wet before the game starts,” Doug Williams said. “If they’re not wet, we might have a chance.”
“It was raining, so my socks were pretty wet already,” D.J. Williams said. “Other than that, nothing else but rain running down my socks. After my first drive, I got very comfortable. It was just fun from there.”
D.J. rewarded the faith the Tigers’ coaching staff had in him with a strong performance against the Braves. He was 16 of 24 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 victory in the Port City Classic.
That the younger Williams is starting came about as a couple of things worked in his favor. First, he was the only quarterback of the three competing for the starting job who participated in spring drills. Secondly, he came to Grambling before his father, the greatest quarterback in Grambling history, after having been recruited there by Rod Broadway before he left for North Carolina A&T.
“The coaching staff, we all feel he earned it,” Doug Williams said. “That’s the good part about it. He earned the job. Now all of us coaches like veterans. We’d love to have a junior … But he’ll be fine, I think.”
Does he have any choice? He is from Grambling royalty, and with that comes a healthy portion of skepticism laced with criticism. Because it happened as it has, D.J. is comfortable in his skin and confident in his abilities.
“It was really exciting,” D.J. Williams said. “He told me the night before he accepted the job he was coming. I was really excited for him and myself.
“It definitely has some pressure to it but everybody deals with pressure every day. It’s just that I have to deal with a little bit more of it here because my dad won the Super Bowl back in the day. I just go out there every day and try to be D.J. Williams and try to be the best D.J. Williams I can be.”
That has been more than Grambling’s coaches were hoping for. He played well and handled all the pressures that come from this situation. His coach didn’t think this would be a problem and it hasn’t been because he is very clear on boundaries and understands this type of dynamic.
“Hopefully he’s been around me long enough to look at pressure like his dad handled pressure,” Doug Williams said. “That is the way to look at pressure is something an individual puts on himself — not man. If he handles it any way his daddy handled it, he’ll be fine.
“I don’t think there will be any issues. John Elway’s daddy coached him in high school. And Eddie Robinson coached his son here at Grambling. You don’t get that opportunity that often. If you do, you look at it and cherish it that it is your son. But your son has to understand two things — and I think D.J. Has done it well — that when he stops by the house, I’m his daddy. When it’s in the office, it’s coach. I have never heard him say anything else but coach, or ‘Yes sir.’ “
Also, D.J. was being prepared for his time in the spotlight. Doug told him about the distractions that could sink him. But Doug readied his son in advance.
“He just pretty much told me it was going to be hard being coached by your dad. But if anyone can do it, I think you can do it,” D.J. Williams said. “I told him I was prepared for it. He’s a competitive guy. He’s a hard worker and wants the best out of his players. It’s no different for me.
“I’m used to the competition. Last year at Hargraves [Academy] we had the No. 23-ranked quarterback in the country there, and we [other quarterbacks] had to compete for a starting job. I love competing. I’ve been competing all my life. I’ve had to compete for everything I’ve ever got. Competition is what keeps guys going.”
D.J. Williams could not be in a better spot. He knows teams are going to give the Tigers their best shot each week, so being prepared is key. To make sure Grambling’s quarterbacks are prepared — more specifically D.J. — Doug Williams is letting his quarterback know that he expects the best and exudes confidence.
“I think he might be a little bit harder on me because he raised me to have a tough skin,” D.J. Williams said. “My skin’s a little bit tougher than most, so he can say some things to me that he can’t say to some other people. I think that’s one reason why he’s harder on me. He expects the best out of his starting quarterback, so that’s another reason why he’s harder on me.
“The pressure’s still on because we were picked to win the SWAC. All season, the target is going to get bigger and bigger for Grambling State. The pressure is still on the whole team — not just me. But I think we perform best when we’re under pressure. We welcome the challenges.”
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