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Williams capitalized on his chance

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 25. 2013 4:00AM
Jessica Hill/AP photo
UConn cornerback Jhavon Williams (6) celebrates with teammate Lyle McCombs (43) after intercepting a pass in the first half of Saturday night's game against Michigan.
Freshman played key role for the Huskies

Storrs Jhavon Williams understands the significant of wearing No. 6 at UConn.

He's plays the same position and is from the same state as fellow Floridian Jasper Howard and remembers reading about the former UConn player's death in 2009.

"To be able to have the number on my jersey on my back, I know the spotlight is going to be on me," Williams said Tuesday. "I've really got to play hard and fast. I've got people watching me.

"It's a phenomenal opportunity."

Pressed into full-time action Saturday against Michigan because of a first-quarter shoulder injury to starter Taylor Mack, Williams paid tribute to Howard with his best performance of his young career.

Williams, a redshirt freshman cornerback, recorded four tackles, had his first interception and made a huge fumble recovery off teammate Brian Lemelle's muffed punt return at the UConn 10-yard line near the end of the first half.

He was one of several young Huskies to experience growth spurts in a 24-21 loss to the nationally-ranked Wolverines at Rentschler Field.

"He's got a long way to go, he has a lot to learn, but he played consistent football for us," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "He helped us some in run support. He has to keep his focus, not be distracted."

Pasqualoni came away most impressed with a Williams' play in pass coverage that barely registered with anyone outside the UConn football team.

"Maybe the biggest play of the night for him was the go route when they went after him, he cut the defender off and into the sideline," Pasqualoni said. "That was really a big play for anyone, let alone a freshman."

Williams, who's from Wellington, Fla., attended Palm Beach Central where he showed off his versatility by playing a variety of positions for his high school team.

Speed is one of his biggest assets. He credits his four older sisters with making him tougher and faster.

"I used to run from them all the time," Williams said. "That's probably how I got fast... running from my sisters and running to my mom. It was funny."

Williams, who checks in at 5-foot-11, 191 pounds, fell in love with UConn during his recruiting visit. He also considered Kentucky, Marshall, New Mexico and Western Michigan.

He sat out last season as a red-shirt and started off this fall as the backup cornerback.

When starter Taylor Mack went down with an injury in the first quarter on Saturday, Williams received a pep talk from Darrell Perkins, who coaches the cornerbacks, before going in.

"(Coach Perk) said, `It's time to grow up. ... Play technique and you can do it.'

"The defense played fast all night and it was easy to try to match everybody's intensity and help my team try to pull out the win," Williams said.

It didn't take long for Williams to make a attention-grabbing play. Alertly reacting to a tipped ball, Williams picked off Devin Gardner's pass at UConn 23-yard line on Michigan's opening drive.

He impressed his teammates with his overall play.

"He played great," said red-shirt junior Ty-Meer Brown said. "I'm proud of the way he played. He played with a lot of confidence for a young guy. That's the one thing that stuck out to me."

Going forward, Williams is prepared to do whatever he's asked to help the Huskies win. Mack is considered questionable for Saturday's game at Buffalo (1-2). UConn (0-3) is still searching for its first win.

He'll continue to follow Pasqualoni's advice.

"He tells me every day, don't swallow the Kool-Aid," Williams said. "Just go back to work and focus. He knows his stuff and I'm doing exactly what he's telling me to do."

g.keefe@theday.com

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