Four words sway former 5-star UM safety to expand role to new position: ‘We want to win’

9-11 minutes 8/2/2023
James Williams knew it was coming.
So when new University of Miami defensive coordinator Lance Guidry sat down Williams — the nation’s No. 1 safety and 6-5, 223-pound crown jewel of the 2021 UM signing class — for a heart-to-heart, Williams was fully ready and willing to accept that in 2023 he will be expanding his repertoire to include outside linebacker.
“His message was, ‘We want to win,’ Williams told reporters Wednesday after Miami’s second practice of fall camp. “He asked me, do I want to win? I told him, ‘Yeah.’
“We sat down, had a conversation, talked about it and I accepted the role. It is what it is.”
Was he surprised?
“Nah. I kind of knew it was coming. I wasn’t scared or nothing. I already knew.
“I know what the future holds for me and my body and how much I’m going to keep growing and keep getting better. I already knew those things. I’ve been kind of like holding off of it, but now is the time to come to reality and realize what I have to do.”
Williams, back this camp from offseason shoulder surgery, his second surgery since season-ending groin surgery in 2021, was his ever buoyant, energized, outgoing self Wednesday, smiling after every question and clearly happy to be there. For years he has been asked about possibly playing linebacker, but he always preferred safety, where he stayed — though he did move closer to the line of scrimmage at times last season.
On media day, Guidry said Williams might be “put at outside linebacker’’ when the Canes go against bigger bodies.
“He will play boundary safety for us most of the time, but when offenses go to big personnel looks, he will play some outside linebacker for us and we can blitz him off the edge and those things with him,” Guidry said. “I told him you want to put as much stuff on film as you can and if you play multiple positions, it will help. He has bought into that.
“We’re excited to see all the things he can do.”
Miami Hurricanes safety James Williams (20) speaks with the media after fall training camp at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility at the University of Miami on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 in Coral Gables, Florida.
Last season, Williams, a Plantation American Heritage grad, started 10 of his 11 games, amassing 58 tackles — one fewer than All-American junior safety Kam Kinchens. Williams also had one of his three career interceptions, and added six pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
As a true freshman in 2021, he played in 10 games and made seven consecutive starts before he went down with the groin injury in the first half of the Florida State game. He earned honorable mention All-ACC, but the groin injury derailed him.
He has always been a physical specimen, but he definitely looks thicker now.
“He’s a lanky guy,’’ said UM starting receiver Colbie Young, 6-5 and 213 pounds. “Every time you see him out there you’ll be like, ‘He’s all of 6-5.’ When you get up close to him if you get him in his range, you better be ready for a hand fight because he’s going to get a hold of you.’
“I like going against him all the time being that I’ll go deep against him having that jump ball. He’s going to go after that ball.’’
Williams, who changed his jersey number from zero to his high school No. 20, said he’s feeling great in every way.
‘More explosive’
Miami Hurricanes safety James Williams (20) during fall training camp at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility at the University of Miami on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 in Coral Gables, Florida.
“More explosive, more elusive, more myself, better than ever,’’ he said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes. Whatever Coach Guidry asks me to do, or [secondary] Coach [Jahmile] Addae, I’m willing to do it, no matter what it is. I’m willing to make the team great and help us win.”
But does he like his new role?
“I love my role,’’ Williams said. “I feel comfortable wherever I go because of the confidence I have in myself. The work I put in, the things I did off the field, the offseason. This offseason was a hell of an offseason. I’m willing to come to the party.”
Guidry said on media day that coaches are “a little bit worried about” depth at safety behind Kinchens and Williams.
Redshirt freshman Markeith Williams, redshirt freshman Jaden Harris and fourth-year junior Brian Balom are their main backups. Kaleb Spencer of Gloucester, Virginia’s Life Christian Academy is listed as a 6-1, 215-pound true freshman.
Williams played in four games last season, with three tackles. Harris played in two games. Balom played in 11, with only one tackle, and entered the transfer portal in the offseason before being convinced by Cristobal to return to UM. On Tuesday, Cristobal left open the door that recent defensive back transfer Jadais Richard, a talented cornerback from Vanderbilt, could also play at safety.
Regardless of who plays behind him, Williams said he and Kinchens will do “whatever it takes to get them on the field.’’
“I love them,’’ Williams said. “They’re coming to the party. They’re understanding the scheme, but we’ve got to get on them more, we gotta put in extra work to succeed so they can be able to play. Me and Kam are willing to help them do extra work.’’
Last October, a frustrated Williams said he wished the defensive backs, including himself, were more disciplined instead of trying to be heroes.
“Last year we weren’t focused on the team,’’ Williams said. “We were mainly focused on the individual. So, this year, me and Kam stressed that we will be focusing on what we gotta do to get our jobs done. We’ve been on each other about that and building discipline to stay on top of each other.”

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