IU freshman cornerback Jaylin Williams is not Rashard Fant’s little brother, no matter how many times those around IU's football program tell him so.
“Everybody says I look like him,” Williams said. “Like, that’s my older brother.”
The 5-foot-11, 3-star recruit out of Germantown, Tennessee, does bear a striking resemblance to the former star cornerback who finished his career in Bloomington last season as the program’s all-time leader in passes defended and pass breakups.
However, Williams will be looking to be more than just a Fant doppelganger for IU’s secondary during the 2018 season.
As Fant has moved on, currently trying to earn a roster spot in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, his presence, or lack of presence, in the secondary is still being felt in the program.
Even with experienced cornerbacks such as juniors Andre Brown Jr. and A’Shon Riggins on the roster, Coach Tom Allen and his staff still find themselves facing depth problems at the position after Fant’s departure.
That leaves the door wide-open for young players like Williams to earn playing time right away.
Williams says he knows playing freshmen right away is nothing new for IU cornerbacks Coach Brandon Shelby.
“It excites me,” Williams said. “It gets me ready to work harder, so I’m just working to see what happens in the future.”
Allen and his staff have been on high on Williams after he showed great promise at Germantown High School. This past season during his senior year, he ended up with 62 total tackles, one forced fumble, one interception and eight pass breakups, while also allowing just three total receptions all season.
He also showed some promise as a wide receiver as he posted 36 receptions for 856 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“Jaylin is a tremendously gifted player with high class speed, can play both sides of the ball," Allen said during his National Signing Day press conference December 20. "But he's going to play corner."
Williams, who originally committed to play at Ole Miss before decommitting after Coach Hugh Freeze’s departure, may be poised to help to take over in wake of Fant’s departure.
Even when he was being recruited by Shelby, he drew comparisons to Fant, who was a similar size to Williams at 5-foot-10 and around 170 pounds.
“He said he saw a little bit of what Rashard had in me,” Williams said. “He said I could make an impact if I do what he knows I can do, and that’s what my folks told me, too.”
Now on campus for the summer, Williams has started some early homework by going back and watching film of Fant, trying to learn how a cornerback of his size approaches playing against bigger, lengthier receivers in the Big Ten.
He said he has also seen some similarities in their games.
“We both have some quickness and we’re both good with our hands,” Williams said. “Hopefully I can learn a little bit more from him.”
As Williams tries to get acclimated with IU’s playbook for the upcoming season, he’s already gotten the chance to learn from Fant quite a bit.
He’s reached out to Fant over text, looking for some advice on how to learn the new system and how to get adjusted to playing for Allen and his staff.
“I’ve been trying to learn the plays,” Williams said. “I’m trying to get on the field, so I have to learn the plays to get on the field, so that’s basically what I’ve been doing with my free time mostly.”
He’s also gotten to show off some of the quickness and speed that has drawn comparisons to Fant in the team’s early speed workouts. On the first day that Williams ran, he posted some of the fastest times on the team.
However, he said he’s been focusing on other parts of his game, such as his weight, that he thinks still need improvement if he wants to see significant playing time in 2018.
“I’ve gained eight pounds already,” Williams said. “That was really the biggest concern for me coming in. I think I was OK because I know I can get faster, I’m going to get faster. The biggest difference for me coming in was just getting bigger, so I think I’m doing that. Coach Ballou and them are doing a good job in the weight room. We’re working real hard, so it’s going to be good.”
That hard work in the weight room and on the field during practice will be key for Williams if he wants to take the next step from little brother and Rashard junior jokes off the field to actual comparisons to Fant on the field at Memorial Stadium.
When looking toward the work that lies ahead of him, Williams reiterates a message the IU coaches have stressed to him since they first started recruiting him — everything is earned.
“I’m just a freshman, so I know nothing is given, everything is earned,” Williams said. “I’ve just got to earn my way to something.”
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