Tank At His Best
Oct. 16, 2001
The history is as familiar as the names. Deion Sanders, Florida State, 1988. Terrell Buckley, Florida State, 1991. Charles Woodson, Michigan, 1997. Since 1986, the Jim Thorpe Award has been given to the best defensive back in college football. The winners are judged on their performance on the field, their athletic ability and their character. This year, two-year starting safety Tank Williams earned a nod as his name is one of 38 on the 2001 Preseason Watch List for the Jim Thorpe Award.
Coming out of high school in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Tank Williams was not on the Jim Thorpe Award radar. He was not a top prospect with multitudes of scholarship offers. So when the opportunity to go to Stanford presented itself to Williams, he jumped at the chance to come to The Farm. The academic opportunity was unparalleled and the idea of playing major college football was just as enticing. He shared, 'Stanford is an easy choice. There's a great family atmosphere [within the program] and it lured me to California.'
So, Tank started to adjust to the West Coast - sort of. 'There aren't any buffet places,' Williams noted. 'It's fast-paced living out here. In Mississippi, it's laid back and slow. My teammates still mess with me about how slow I walk.'
Getting him to the state of California was the easy part. But how would he adjust to life and football in one of the nation's premier conferences? His philosophy was simple. 'I just tried to come out here and do the best I could,' confessed Williams. 'I applied that to my books, athletics and personal life.'
The simple approach worked and three years after he arrived on campus, Tank is no longer an undiscovered talent. People noticed when Williams recorded 66 tackles (52 unassisted), three interceptions, three tackles-for-loss and one quarterback sack to earn Second Team All-Pac-10 honors as a junior last season. People noticed this year when he was named one of the nation's top defensive backs.
His coaches have noticed too. 'I wish we had about 12 Tanks on our team,' commented secondary coach Denny Schuler. 'We've got to make sure we utilize his talents as best we can.'
Despite all the attention, Tank seems completely unfazed. 'Since my freshman year,' he explained, 'my goal was to be the best safety in the nation. That goal hasn't changed. I've worked hard the past winter, spring and summer, I'm not taking my eyes off the goal.'
The real goal of this season is not just to be the number one safety in the country, but to be the number one safety on a Pac-10 Championship team. Although the Rose Bowl will be hosting the National Championship in January and therefore might not include a Pac-10 or Big Ten team, Williams stated, 'Our goal hasn't changed. We want to make it to the Rose Bowl. We had a great time two years ago, and we want another crack at it.'
For Stanford to make it to a bowl game this season, the entire team will need to concentrate - especially during conference play. The Cardinal will face Oregon, UCLA and Washington on consecutive weekends in the middle of the season, meaning that in the midst of midterms and the normal rigors of being a student-athlete, the team will have to stay especially focused. Williams remarked that the most important thing for him personally was 'to stay healthy. It's my fourth season. I know what the system is [in the Pac-10]. I know how I need to perform in order to be successful. I will be the best player I can be.'
Every member of the squad will have to make continual effort to be the best he can be as they battle through the 2001 season. Added to the normal pressures, there is extra attention on Stanford this season and Tank is aware of all the eyes turned towards him and his teammates. With four Pac-10 teams ranked in the top-25, the conference is gaining more exposure and as the fight for the Pac-10 title continues, each team will have to face more pressure than usual. '[The national attention] is important,' he said, 'because it brings recognition to the team and it helps us as we're trying to be one of the best team's in the country.'
By Jessica Raber