AUBURN, Ala. — When Tre’ Williams signed with Auburn football as a 5-star prospect from Mobile, Ala., the Tigers’ linebacking corps wasn’t in the best of shape.
Now, three years after he first arrived on the Plains, Williams is delivering on the promise he had as a high school All-American. He’s the top player in a linebacker group that has turned from punchline to power for the Auburn defense.
“It’s something I dreamed of, and I’ve gotta really take advantage of it,” Williams said this spring. “It’s the last go-around, so it’s about that time to pick it up and go to another level.”
This spring, that desire showed up in the area of leadership, according to Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams.
“I think Tre‘ Wiliams is doing an excellent job of being a leader,” Travis Williams said. “Tre‘ Williams is the vocal leader in that group. He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football for us. He’s a guy that’s taken on that leadership role. He should. It’s his senior year.
“This is his team. … This is it for him. He wants to go out with a bang.”
Last season, Williams led all Auburn linebackers with 67 tackles despite missing two games due to injury. He also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hurries, 2 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
During spring camp, Williams recorded a pick-six of new quarterback Jarrett Stidham in a scrimmage inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Williams is the biggest lock to start among Auburn’s four top linebackers — which includes Darrell Williams, Deshaun Davis and Montavious Atkinson — in 2017. His position coach thinks he could be one of the SEC’s best.
“He has a tremendous skill set,” Travis Williams said. “He’s a highly recruited kid. He’s a kid that had a great year last year. The second part of last season, I felt like he was probably one of the best linebackers playing in the conference.”
During his first three years at Auburn, Williams played for three different coordinators and three different linebacker coaches. But for the first time in his career, he entered the offseason with stability in the coaches above him.
“We’ve still got a lot of things to work on as the older guys like technique and everything, so we get to move forward instead of trying to learn a new defense and work on our technique,” Williams said. “We’re able to progress easier.”
This spring, Williams was able to do some coaching of his own. Auburn signed a highly touted linebacker class in 2017, and two of the three blue-chip signees — K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten — enrolled early.
Williams was able to teach Britt and Wooten and lead by example during spring camp.
“It gives us an easier role being a leader because you know we already know the defense, so we can teach those young guys that,” Williams said. “But as far as technique-wise, they can just watch how we do it. Then they can go in and do it, and if they do something wrong, it’s easier to coach them up while T-Will coaches somebody else up. We’re able to coach somebody. It works both ways.”
As Williams coaches Auburn’s next wave of linebackers, he hasn’t stopped getting tough training from his own coaches.
Travis Williams said he still puts the Mobile native through everything in practices. As a former All-SEC linebacker who played in the NFL, the second-year coach knows what his star senior needs.
“I put Tre‘ in all the drills. I’m not sitting him out because he’s a senior. That’s not doing him any good,” Travis Williams said. “He’s got to get in those drills to get better. He’s got aspirations to be in the NFL. I’m not helping him by sitting him out. I’m putting him in all the physical drills, just like everybody else.
“Now those freshmen can look at him, ‘Well when I become a senior, he’s still going to be putting me through the fire.'”
Williams hopes that fire will refine him into someone who makes that next step as both a linebacker and a leader for Auburn’s resurgent defense.
“He should be able to take his game to another level,” Travis Williams said. “He wants to be one of the top linebackers in the SEC. He’s working hard at it. It’s fun to see him work. It’s fun to see that kid come to work every day. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t moan. He just goes to work. That’s always good. He’s a great young man.”