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Javon Williams Jr. SIU QB

Javon Williams Jr., a true freshman quarterback from Centralia, throws during Sunday's practice. Williams is one of four freshmen quarterbacks in camp with fifth-year seniors Sam Straub and Matt DeSomer and junior college transfer Stone Labanowitz. 

CARBONDALE — Just like his uncle, who died before he was born, Javon Williams Jr. is a pure athlete.

The 6-foot-2, 234-pound freshman quarterback who hasn't thrown an official pass this season found his niche at SIU on special teams and as a backup running back. The Centralia High School grad who was responsible for 52 touchdowns last season (30 rushing and 22 passing), tying an Illinois state record, was one of two quarterbacks not practicing their dropbacks in the south end zone Tuesday afternoon.

While Austin Reed lined up with the scout team at the other end of the field, Williams took a knee, preparing for a few reps on the kickoff team.

"Everybody on the team enjoys having him around. I've said this before, but I've gotten many emails, from study table. Many people enjoy being around Javon," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "He comes in with a great attitude. His teammates love him. He's learnin'. True freshman quarterback. He's got a skill set that we need to continue to develop and find the right way to use him."

Even when the defense knows Williams is coming, it has struggled to stop him. He's averaging 4.4 yards a carry, with his first touchdown as a Saluki against South Dakota Sept. 29 on a 1-yard run. Most of Williams' success comes from a positive mindset.

"I've always had that mindset that when you get the ball you go to the end zone," he said. "Every time I get the ball, I'm picturing myself getting in the end zone, so it just makes me work harder."

And when Williams doesn't reach the end zone, he looks forward to his next try.

"You get hit hard. You say 'Good hit,' and I'm giggling about it," he said. "I'm just a goofy person, so it doesn't matter."

Originally in love with basketball (he was a 1,000-point scorer for the Orphans and the MVP of the South Seven Conference in that sport last year), Williams moved to football because six points were better than three. Every time he walks by the basketball hoop near his dorm, he reminisces about the good old days. However, he feels his best football days are still ahead of him.

Williams' parents split up when he was in fifth grade. His mother moved to Kansas, and he went out there for a week before changing his mind and coming back to Illinois with his father. He still considers himself a "momma's boy," and watches "Riverdale" on Netflix. As a linebacker, he averaged 2-3 sacks a game, he said, but got dehydrated playing both ways and on special teams before moving full-time to the offensive side. Like his father, who played fullback, defensive line and other positions, he played multiple positions growing up.

The old film of his uncle, a former running back who had the talent to reach the pros but never made it, continues to drive him.

"He couldn't make it. He probably would have made it, so I'm gonna be the one that makes it," Williams said.

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todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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