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Leaning on a winding life's journey, 'Grandpa' Deontai Williams relishes role as leader for Husker football

Leaning on a winding life's journey, 'Grandpa' Deontai Williams relishes role as leader for Husker football

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Nebraska vs. Bethune-Cookman, 10/27

Nebraska's Deontai Williams holds on to an interception during a 2018 game at Memorial Stadium. 

INDIANAPOLIS — Deontai Williams walks into the Nebraska football locker room, and suddenly he's sitting in a rocking chair and telling all those young kids about the good old days.

This is hard to do when you're just 24 years old. 

"I'm like a grandpa to be honest with you," Williams said with a laugh last week at Big Ten Media Days. "Walking in the locker room, seeing that you're the oldest person on the team... I'm young, but it makes me feel like I'm older than I am."

Williams would rather stay at home nowadays. He's got a son who will be 2 years old before too long. He was always a quiet guy anyway, he said. When Nebraska's younger players come to him with their stories of the most recent party, Williams just smiles and shakes his head.

"I'm like, I already did that," NU's sixth-year defensive back said.

Yeah, life is different now than it was six years ago when Williams first started his college football journey. The quiet guy who NU coach Scott Frost struggled to get a word out of when he first got to campus in 2018 after two years at Jones County (Miss.) Community College. 

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety is coming off a season in which he started seven of eight games and had a career-high 51 tackles while earning honorable mention all-Big Ten honors. After that COVID-19 affected season ended in December, Williams announced in January he was coming back for one more ride with the Huskers, setting off a chain reaction of sixth-year players returning to Lincoln.

He'll be a lynchpin in the back end of Nebraska's defense, a part of the field where the Huskers figure to have their greatest strength.

And he'll have plenty of experience, whether in football or in life, on which to lean.

"I prayed over it, and I felt like whatever decision I made, God would be there every step of the way. So I'm glad I came back. I came back to change the narrative with the guys that came back with me — to put the program back at the top like Frost wants it to be," Williams said. "That's why I committed to Frost.

"I knew if I decided to come back, some of the guys would come back with me."

Had it not been for a season-ending shoulder injury in the first game of the 2019 season, Williams likely wouldn't be pulling on the scarlet and cream this fall. But Frost made clear he's happy to have the old grandpa back on the field.

"He's a good father. He's a good person. He's a great player, and a good teammate," Frost said at Big Ten Media Days. "I expect he would have been farther along in his career had he not gotten hurt Game 1 a couple years ago, and we might not still have him. But I'm thrilled that he's back on the football team. And he's going to be a big part of our secondary and our team."

Injuries have unfairly marked a good chunk of Williams' college career. His 2016 season at Jones County ended with an injury before he parlayed a strong 2017 into a Nebraska offer as one of Frost's first recruits. Then came 2019, when he watched from the sideline instead of solidifying a starting role.

Still, he says, there's no reason to look back and wonder what might have been.

"It's shaped my life perfect. Because me, first, I'm a God-first person. I felt like God was just sitting me down and (saying) be patient and be here today speaking to y'all right now," Williams said from a podium at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I ain't going to say that it's something that I needed, but it was just a growing moment every year, every time.

"I know in life it's not about me. It's about the people around you."

Williams lives that mantra, whether it's loving on his son or pulling his younger teammates along in their development while also working toward his future.

"I come to the stadium every day pushing my teammates, competing against my teammates," Williams said. "And to have them look to me as a leader makes me appreciate coming back for another year even more. So I'm glad I get to go to war with them for one more year, and I can't wait."

Williams indeed is living his journey. One that is unique, for sure. And one that he hopes can shape who he becomes as more years roll by.

"A wise man told me this: if everybody had the same story, the world would be boring," Williams said. "So this is my story. I'm here for six years, playing college football, hopefully when I'm in the NFL I can play as long as I want."

Contact the writer at or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


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Husker men's basketball/baseball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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