There may well be more future National Football League players on the roster of the 2008 Carolina football team than any UNC club since 2001, when a list of guys such as Julius Peppers, Ryan Sims, Willie Parker, Jason Brown, Quincy Monk, Jeff Reed, Michael Waddell, Ronald Curry, Zack Hilton, Madison Hedgecock, David Thornton, Dexter Reid, Jonas Seawright, Greg Warren and Chase Page all eventually played in the league.
Some remain NFL players today.
Now fast forward to the 2008 roster.
From Garrett Reynolds to Hakeem Nicks to Marvin Austin to Greg Little to Brandon Tate to Cam Thomas to Quinton Coples[/db] to [db]Tydreke Powell to Aleric Mullins to [db]E.J Wilson[/db] to Trimane Goddard, and a possible list of others, this team has some genuinely fine football players and possible professional prospects.
In the end, however, the most successful NFL player in the long haul, barring injury, may well be safety Deunta Williams.
Williams, the ACC defensive rookie of the year last season, could well become the best safety to ever play at North Carolina.
At 6 foot 2, 215 pounds, he has the size, speed and strength for a safety. Add an obsessive work ethic in the film room, a high football IQ, perhaps the best hands of any UNC defensive back since All-America Dre' Bly and a pure love of the game, and one gets the ideal ingredients for a powerful playmaker at his position.
He led the team in interceptions a year ago with three and nearly made several others. In addition to laying a devastating hit on receivers and ballcarriers, he displays his great athletic ability with some of the most acrobatic moves seen from anyone on the team. Despite his size, he can leap across a receiver to go for an interception.
"A lot of people say, 'Why did you do that?'" Williams says of his flips and maneuvers, flashing his trademark smile and affable nature. "I say, 'I don't know; it just happened.' I'm trying to get to the ball as quickly as possible. The ball is the issue. Wherever the ball is, that is where I try to put myself. Watching film definitely helps me do that."
He has already proven he will rush toward the line of scrimmage and deliver a highlight hit.
"Deunta definitely can come down and lay a lick," said Nicks, who goes against his friend in practice.
But as with everything else about Williams' game, he is not satisfied with his tackling or the hitting ability he displayed as a freshman. He's determined to better himself in every way.
"I've been working on my angles during the off-season so I can really explode into hit and not have to worry about him escaping," Williams said.
He has earned the respect of his teammates for his work ethic and his production. Ask any of them about Williams and practically teammate will use the word intelligent as one of the adjectives to describe this kid from White Oak High School in Jacksonville.
"Deunta is so smart," Nicks said. "He gets in the film room every day, every morning with the coaches. He calls out our plays before we even line up. We don't tell him how we're lining up, but half the time he'll be right. It's just a matter of him being so smart, reading formations."
The guys on his side of the ball appreciate the hours Williams spends watching film and the knowledge he brings to the field.
"Without a doubt, I believe he is one of the top safeties in the nation," starting cornerback Kendric Burney said of Williams. "As time goes on and we start winning more games, he'll get more recognition. I love it when he and Trimane are behind me. I know I can play a little more aggressively because if I mess up, they have my back. We have a feel for one another and what we're going to do.
"Those two know the offense and the defense better than anybody on the team," Burney said. "Deunta watches more film than anybody on this defense. He tells me stuff, and I'm like, 'Wow, you are pretty smart.'
"They study what they have to study, and they take us to the next level with our secondary."
This is where Coach [db]Butch Davis[/db] wants to see Williams take all that work in the film room and apply it on the field.
"Where I see Deunta growing is his ability to help other guys, the communication, talking to the corners," Davis said. "When you're a first-time starter, and especially when you're a first-time defensive player, as he was last year, you are so consumed [with one's own assignments]. But now he has enough self-confidence. He knows the schemes. He knows where he is going to be and he can get involved in disguises. He can recognize formations and anticipate that these are the three or four plays that come from that formation.
"That is going to give him a better chance to be a playmaker. With a guy who has great instincts, when he reaches that point, he has a chance to make some more plays."
One thing Williams cannot tolerate is when he fails to make the play, especially when he appears to have an interception only to fall short.
"It burns me up," Williams said. "The South Carolina game was a prime example. I made my read and came all the way across the field on the open tight end. He bobbled the ball, and I came under it and scooped it and brought it to my chest. I could see it if I had dropped it, but they didn't give it to me. That really hurt. Worse, they went on to score six points. That would have been a big game-changing experience if I had been able to get that interception."
Carolina fans and opponents alike can expect to see him make even more of those plays this year and in the future because Williams is driven to be the best player he can be -- possibly the finest that will eventually emerge off this roster in the NFL some day.
"Actually, I think I'm faster," Williams said. "I feel a lot better. I feel more like an athlete. I feel like my jumping ability has increased. I feel like my explosiveness has increased. I close on the ball a lot better than I did before I got here.
"I feel like when I bring a little punch to a hit, I can deliver a better blow. My game is going to be totally different this year," Williams said. "I'm still going to improve on the things I do well, but I really attacked my weaknesses this year. I attacked my body. I really got stronger and faster."
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