In a program full of natural leaders, Navy safety Sean Williams is a role model for his teammates.
The senior sets high standards in the classroom and on the field, playing at full throttle with each snap.
Williams, the defensive captain, was determined to set the tone in the annual matchup against powerhouse Notre Dame Oct. 27. He forced a huge fumble in the opening quarter that was recovered by freshman cornerback Michael McMorris at Notre Dame's 36-yard line. Even though the Midshipmen did not capitalize, it was Williams' fearless style of play that set the example for his fellow defensive players.
That's been a role Williams has embraced during his time in Annapolis, Md.
"I'm more of an in-the-moment type of person. So, if I feel like guys are straying away or not focused or not on point as far as our objective, then I will step in," Williams said. "Our guys are strong. We're resilient and battle-tested. A lot of guys have been here and seen the things we've [been through] before and have been through adversity; it's not anything new to us. I just take it day-by-day, moment-by-moment."
Williams is a three-year starter and one of the team's top overall athletes. He had five forced fumbles during the opening seven games, which was tied with Kentucky linebacker and NFL prospect Josh Allen for most in the nation. Williams also recorded a season-high 11 tackles during the 44-22 loss to Notre Dame, including 10 solo stops.
Williams was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week after finishing with a team-high nine tackles and two forced fumbles during a 22-21 win against Memphis Sept. 8. Williams was the first Navy player to force two fumbles in the same game since Will Anthony against Air Force Oct. 3, 2015.
"There is no doubt that he is one of the best, if not the best, man-to-man guys we have on the team," Navy assistant coach Dan O'Brien said. "You need safeties who are good cover guys, but they've got to be good tacklers who take the proper angles with good body positioning. We love having Sean back there, where he can see everything and knows everybody's job and he can go to the ball. He's got the perfect mindset to compete at this level. He helps coaches keep their jobs."
Williams, who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., pays close attention to the details, which helps separate him from the opposition. In 2017, he was named Honorable Mention All-AAC after finishing second on the team with 76 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. He also intercepted a pass, broke up four pass attempts, recovered a fumble and forced a fumble that season.
Before the 2018 season, Williams helped come up with Navy's motto for the upcoming campaign: "For the Culture."
"That motto lies in doing all the small things," Williams said. "That means touching the line on sprints, never taking a play off during practice -- just focusing on all the little details. Training yourself to do the right thing all the time is important because it comes through during games. We're able to compete at a high level because of our discipline and commitment to the details. That's the foundation of our culture."
As a student, Williams is majoring in quantitative economics. His time-management skills have been essential to his success with the rigorous schedule at the Naval Academy.
A typical day for Williams consists of:
6 a.m.: Treatment
7 a.m.: Breakfast
7:55 a.m.: Engineering in the Littoral Zone
8:55 a.m.: Engineering in the Littoral Zone
9:55 a.m.: Law and Economics
10:55 a.m.: Law and Economics
12:30 p.m.: Football meetings
1:15 p.m.: Law for the Junior Officer
2:30 p.m.: Free time
3:20 p.m.: Training room/dress for practice
4 p.m.: Practice
6 p.m.: Weights
7 p.m.: Dinner
8 p.m.: Study
midnight: Lights out
Williams has stressed the importance of being a well-rounded student-athlete to some of the younger players. Prior to the season, he was elected a co-captain, along with fullback Anthony Gargiulo, by his teammates. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo knows his players made a wise choice.
"I have been very pleased with the leadership of Anthony Gargiulo, Sean Williams and the other seniors. They have been very humble and hard-working," Niumatalolo said. "They've talked a lot about finishing, they've talked about being disciplined, being on time -- just doing what you're supposed to do."
This season has been challenging for the Midshipmen, who will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2011. Nonetheless, Williams has implored his teammates to keep playing hard and paying special attention to the details.
Despite the setbacks, Williams has not lost confidence in himself or the program. The game against Army Dec. 8 will be especially critical in order to end the year on a high note.
"We want guys to respond when adversity comes and the pressure is on, so to be at your best, you have to do it in practice, you have to be intense," said Williams, who also received scholarship offers from Air Force, Army and Indiana after high school. "You have to treat every rep likes it's your game rep. Come Saturday, it's either second nature or you're doing it at one hundred percent."
Added Williams: "You have to give yourself a chance to compete by taking care of the little things."
Williams was recently named the winner of the 2018 Defender of the Nation Award, based on exceptional leadership qualities on the field, in the classroom and in the community. He was selected as a top player among the nation's military schools, which also consist of Army, Air Force, The Citadel, Coast Guard Academy, Norwich University, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and the Virginia Military Institute.
"Sean Williams' many accomplishments on and off the field are exceptional," said John Rocco, executive director of the Charlotte Touchdown Club that presents the award.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 249: November 2018
Originally published Nov. 15, 2018