AUBURN, Ala. — Tre’ Williams’ bio is one every college athlete would envy.
The linebacker has spent a lot of minutes on the football field for Auburn since becoming a Tiger in 2014. To be specific, Williams has 36 games, and each year he’s improved statistically. But that’s the beginning and middle of Williams’ story.
Now a senior leader for Gus Malzahn’s team and Kevin Steele’s defense, Williams is hoping for a grand ending for his time on the Plains. A few different pieces could make for a memorable last year.
“We haven’t had an All-SEC linebacker since coach [Travis Williams] T-Will was here, and he reminds us of that every day,” Williams said this week. “Until the day we get an All-SEC linebacker or a few of us be All-SEC, then I feel like we’ve done something. So as of now, we still have a lot of work to do.”
For the Mobile, Ala., native, beating the Crimson Tide and ending a three-year losing streak would be an added bonus. However, individual awards and beating the Tigers’ fiercest rival isn’t the most important thing for Williams.
“I want the best for this team,” Williams said. “I want us to get what we deserve and make it all the way to the SEC Championship, national championship. We worked way too hard for a very long time and brought this team back to where it used to be back in the day with all the guys who laid the foundation for us, so now it’s on us to finish.”
After ending 2016 with losses at Georgia, in Tuscaloosa and finally against Oklahoma, it’s all about finishing — the season and his career — on the perfect note.
“We had a really good season last year, but we didn’t finish it like we should have,” Williams said. “This is the year to do it.”
Expectations for Auburn’s defense are higher after its 2016 turnaround. In Year 2 under Steele, there are young standouts who’ve been eagerly awaiting their turn.
Williams is one of the few seniors who will shoulder much of the leadership responsibility this fall. Fortunately his experience on the Plains has prepared him for the role.
“I’m a better player and a better person so I give credit to the coaching staff over the last four years,” Williams said. “And I’m going to continue to grow with our coaching staff now.”
Steele jokes that Williams is “close to having Alabama retirement he’s been here so long.” And that’s what Auburn’s defense needs. The longtime defensive coordinator can split his unit into three groups: the experienced role models, players who have expectations, but struggle at times to recover from mistakes and the freshmen, who “just don’t know what they don’t know.”
Williams is the perfect person to lead every classification.
“Tre’ is a real serious guy,” Steele said. “He’s very serious about the game. He is very mature in the way he responds to things and that shows up in leadership. He’s very calm and he has the ability to play the next play and not be caught reflecting on what just happened to let it affect his emotion or his thought process.”
Williams’ skill set makes him important, but his ability to affect others makes him invaluable.
In the early days of fall camp, Auburn’s coaching staff has split practice into two sections. The focus is on veterans first and then the new guys. As he’s taken the field first, Williams has reflected on his days of being a freshman.
Now, especially with the departure of Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and other NFL draftees, Williams has his own shoes to fill.
Gus Malzahn considers Williams a “coach on the field” and says when the linebacker has been healthy he’s continued to bring his game to new levels.
“Tre’ is one of our team leaders,” Malzahn said. “He’s a guy that earned that. He’s been so consistent since he’s been here from a character standpoint, work ethic standpoint. … He’s one of our team leaders and I’m proud to call him a team leader. He’s earned that since he’s been here.”
Auburn’s defense made jumps in national rankings statistically last year, but Williams is a player who feels the unit didn’t get enough credit.
Though the linebacker group was a question mark heading into 2016, it’s considered by many to be one of Auburn’s biggest strengths this season. All that’s left to do, for Williams and the Tigers, is to continue building on the career he’s already constructed.
“We’re going to be a much better team this year,” Williams said. “So we just got to work on getting us better.”