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WEST LAFAYETTE -- Frankie Williams didn't hesitate. Does that surprise you? Yes, the Purdue veteran cornerback's move to safety has generated plenty of preseason camp buzz.
But it just might be at punt return, where Williams ranks among the Big Ten's best, that things really get interesting.
How interesting? Consider Williams doesn't play the humble card. Confidence, you see, can get you places.
“I love punt return,” he says. “I love helping the team win. The goal is to be the No. 1 punt returner in the nation.”
In the Big Ten, Iowa's Kevonte Martin-Manley gets most of the punt return acclaim. When you average 15.7 yards a return, as Martin-Manley did last season, the spotlight finds you.
Williams was better than that, averaging 16.8 yards a return, and that's with an 84-yarder for a touchdown against Illinois called back by penalty. However, Williams only had five returns, not enough to officially qualify in Big Ten standings.
No matter. The 5-9, 189-pound Williams is ready to make opponents pay for kicking his way. He has a history of it. He once returned nine punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns at his Tampa, Fla., high school.
“If you beat the first guy, the sky is the limit,” he says. “It's all about beating that first guy. I feel confident I can beat any guy.”
Fair catches aren't in Williams' nature -- to a point, anyway.
“It's all in the flow of the game,” he says about whether to fair catch or try for a return. “I have full trust in the corners. I'll read the punt. Me and the coaches have a plan if I'm going to return or not. It's a talent to feel it, if I feel the pressure I'll call the fair catch. If I don't, I go.”
When it comes to defense, Williams goes big. Last season he had 61 tackles and broke up three passes. In 2012, he had 45 tackles and broke up nine passes.
Williams was poised for another solid cornerback performance, until team necessity took over. Veteran safety Taylor Richards is suspended for the first two games for an alcohol-related offense last winter. That left a big hole, and Williams was picked to fill it over Anthony Brown, a cornerback turned safety turned back to cornerback.
“The coaches and I talked about it and decided it was a good fit for me,” Williams says. “I'm holding it down until Taylor gets back.”
The holding is helped by Landon Feichter, the former Bishop Dwenger standout and veteran safety.
“Landon helps a lot,” Williams says. “He's 100 percent showing everything right now. He can give me that security and let me know if I'm exactly right or not. We're communicating before every play. He's a security blanket.”
The Security Blanket likes Williams' approach.
“Coming from a corner to safety has to be a hard adjustment,” Feichter says, “but he's a smart player. He has a high football IQ. He's adjusted well. We've found we haven't had to talk to him much because of how smart he is on the field.
“There are a few defenses he needs help with his keys. It's all communication. We communicate before the play and he's on track.”
And even when he's not on track, Williams talks like he is.
That's a good thing, coach Darrell Hazell says.
“You like his voice inside. He plays with so much confidence, even when he's not sure. He gets the message communicated out to the corner and the other safety. I like him inside. He'll make some plays.”
Bet on it, Williams says.
“I feel pretty comfortable. The sky is the limit as we get closer to game day and I get better on the field.
“I'm looking forward to any and every challenge each week. I'll do my job to help the team.”