MAN ON THE MOVE: Back in Temple after a year away, Wildcats' Williams savoring new role at receiver
STANDING TALL IN TEMPLE: Devan Williams played defensive back for Temple's varsity football team as a sophomore in 2019 but then moved because of family circumstances in 2020 and played his junior season at Class 3A Division II Wichita Falls City View, helping the 8-5 Mustangs reach the third round of the playoffs. However, Williams moved back to Temple in late April and switched over to offense at wide receiver. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Williams caught a 3-yard touchdown pass, his first TD as a Wildcat, from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield in last Friday's 27-14 home loss to Magnolia West. Williams and Temple (0-2) host the Hutto Hippos (1-1) in a non-district finale at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Devan Williams didn’t move from Seguin to Temple until he was in eighth grade, but he quickly fit in at Lamar Middle School, making friends and excelling in multiple sports.
An athletic defensive back with good size, he developed well enough to make Temple’s varsity football team as a sophomore in 2019 and earn significant playing time for an 8-3 squad that shared a district championship, and he was projected as one of the Wildcats’ starting cornerbacks for his junior season.
Therefore, imagine his level of disappointment during the spring of 2020 when he learned from his mother, Stacy Kindles, that they would be moving to Wichita Falls – a 3½-hour drive from Temple – because of work and family circumstances relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t want to move,” Williams said Tuesday. “It was a heartbreaking move for me.”
The unexpected news was difficult for Temple head coach Scott Stewart to absorb, too.
“You feel for everybody when people are going through unfortunate situations. Where it really gets you is when you know the kid doesn’t want to leave,” Stewart said. “Devan’s buy-in was so high, even as a younger player. He dang near broke down when they came and told me, and his mom was upset. Any time you uproot your family, it can be a struggle. But to watch a kid and you know it’s breaking his heart, that sucks. He went and handled it.”
Williams transferred from Class 6A Temple to Wichita Falls City View, a 3A school where he produced success in football, basketball, baseball and track and field during the 2020-21 school year. Despite the positive adjustment he made to his new setting and life situation, Williams was thrilled when his mother told him in April that they would be coming back to Temple.
“When we moved (to Wichita Falls), some family stuff happened and my mom was like, ‘I want to be closer to home.’ So we ended up coming back,” he said. “I had just spent the year there, and when my mom said she was ready to move back home, I was just filled with excitement.”
On April 27 this year, Stewart was in his office at Temple Athletic Complex answering a reporter’s questions about the Wildcats’ upcoming spring football practices when he heard a knock on his door. The person who then entered was a slightly taller and slightly thicker version of Williams, who after having been gone for approximately one year was met by a hug from Stewart and then delivered some news the coach was happy to hear.
“When I walked in, he thought I was just visiting. When I told him I was back, Coach Stew was ecstatic,” Williams recalled with a smile. “I think he instantly picked the phone up and got me into school the next day. All my credits transferred over and I finished the school year in Temple. It went a lot smoother than I thought it would – no problems at all.”
Added Stewart about the surprising-but-welcomed return of Williams: “You knew he was back the second I knew he was back.”
That sophomore defensive back who got a large amount of playing time, including his 40-yard kickoff return, in Temple’s 41-10 playoff loss at then-defending state champion Longview in 2019 is now a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior who also has a new position: wide receiver.
After making a 33-yard reception in the Wildcats’ season-opening 54-13 home loss to No. 1-ranked Austin Westlake on Aug. 27, Williams generated another highlight by easily catching a fade pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield for a 3-yard touchdown 2½ minutes into Temple’s home game with Magnolia West last Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
“It felt great. It felt like I finally broke the ice, and I just feel like there’s a lot more to come,” Williams said about his first touchdown in a Wildcats uniform, which followed an interception by junior Naeten Mitchell. “It was my first time, so it was a very good experience for me, a very good moment.”
UNCONTESTED: Temple senior wide receiver Devan Williams catches a 3-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield during the Wildcats' 27-14 loss to Magnolia West last Friday at Wildcat Stadium. After moving back to Temple from Wichita Falls in late April, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Williams has three receptions for 45 yards and a TD. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Alas, that TD reception by Williams – who has three catches for 45 yards this season – provided Temple’s only lead in what became a frustrating 27-14 defeat that sent the Wildcats to their first 0-2 start since 2011. Williams and Temple will aim to break into the win column when they host the Hutto Hippos (1-1) in both teams’ non-district finale at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
“It’s just really buying into the coaches’ plan and trusting each other – trusting the coaches and having the coaches trust us,” Williams said about Temple’s key to securing its first victory. “(We need to) support each other and keep high standards for each other on the field.”
Although he would have preferred never to leave Temple, Williams did make the most of his single year in Wichita Falls. He said he made approximately 12 touchdown catches as a receiver for City View along with starting at safety and playing on all special teams for an 8-5 team that won two playoff games in 3A Division II before the Mustangs were eliminated by then-defending state champion Gunter.
“It was non-stop,” Williams said about his on-field workload at City View.
A guard in basketball, Williams helped City View reach the regional quarterfinals before a loss to second-ranked Brock, an eventual state semifinalist. He played baseball as an outfielder and shortstop and also competed in the 200-meter dash, the 4x100 and 4x200 relays and high jump for the track and field squad.
From a football standpoint, Williams said that getting to play on both sides of the ball throughout his 13-game junior season proved highly beneficial.
“It was new and it was a learning experience for me. I got another year of varsity experience at a different level. Seeing 6A and then seeing 3A, it helped me slow the game down and understand a little more,” he said. “It was pretty good (coaching). They sat me down and helped me understand the game – the coverages and what you could expect from defenses. Playing defense and then translating that to offense helps me read the field and coverages better.”
Williams admitted that after moving to a different part of the state, he knew nothing about City View’s opponents, such as Windthorst, Henrietta and Holliday.
“When I went there, they were talking about schools and I’m like, ‘Who are they? I’ve never heard of them,’” Williams said, grinning. “I come back here and they’re talking about Longview and Rockwall-Heath, teams full of four-star (recruits) and athletes. It’s a big difference. I might as well have been a linebacker in 3A, because all they did was run the ball.”
Williams said that upon returning to Temple’s classrooms and football program in late April, he was fully embraced by former teammates who once again became his current teammates, such as seniors Samari Howard, Michael Heckstall and Faylin Lee and junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot.
“They were all excited to greet me and have me back,” said Williams, who overcame an iliac crest injury in his hip entering his sophomore football season.
Although Williams almost certainly would have been one of Temple’s starting cornerbacks had he remained in town for his junior season, his do-it-all experience in Wichita Falls gave him a fresh perspective about what position he wanted to play in his second act as a Wildcat.
Conversations with Stewart – Temple’s defensive coordinator from 2014-15 before he became head coach – and current defensive coordinator Dexter Knox provided clarity on the situation. With his appealing combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism, Williams was enthusiastic about making another move – this one to wide receiver.
“As soon as I came back, Coach Knox talked to me and said, ‘I see you’ve been catching the old pelota,’” Williams said, referring to the Spanish word for ball. “And so he asked me, ‘Well, what do you want to play, receiver or cornerback?’ And I was like, ‘I really liked playing receiver up there.’ So I came back and that’s where I fit right in.
“Coach Stew asked me, ‘You want to come back to the dark side (defense)?’ But I was like, ‘I kind of like offense.’”
Said Stewart: “When Devan came back, I said, ‘What would you prefer?’ Because at that point, I think we’d grown some defensive backs. He said, ‘Coach, I would play anywhere you want me, but I really think I’m a difference-maker at receiver.’ He was a good-looking kid when he was a sophomore and he’s gotten a little bigger. Watching him run routes, he’s so smooth. You see some of the Quentin Johnston-type stuff. He transitions well.”
Of course, Stewart couldn’t resist kidding Williams about his tendency to jump too early on some routes. For example, the senior mistimed his leap on a fade pass on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line with Magnolia West leading 27-14 with 7 minutes remaining, allowing a Mustangs defender to knock the ball away and prevent the Wildcats from scoring a crucial touchdown.
“Now if I can ever get him to time a jump . . . you can outjump that guy by 15 inches and you jumped 2 seconds early,” Stewart said with a laugh. “You’re coming down when the ball’s getting there. He does that in practice and he’s like, ‘Well, I’m trying to elevate first.’ Well, if you can’t elevate and stay in the air longer, then you need to time it better.”
Williams acclimated to his wide receiver position during spring practice and throughout the summer in 7-on-7 action and position-specific drills. Although his statistics (three catches, 45 yards, one touchdown) after two games are modest, that can be considered representative of an inconsistent Temple offense that’s passed for only 209 yards and struggled to produce an effective rushing attack.
Offensive coordinator Josh Sadler commended Williams for his performance thus far.
“Devan’s doing a great job. We’re going to continue to try to get the ball in his hands more,” Sadler said. “What I’m most impressed with is what he does without the ball in his hands. His backside route running, his blocking at the point of attack, those things are phenomenal – stuff that you see at the next level, not necessarily high school. He’s doing a heck of a job.”
Added Williams, also a key member on Temple's special teams: “I help my team in any way I can. If it comes to blocking or just making receptions, anything I can do to help the team and benefit us scoring-wise, I love it. It’s just getting physical and being able to make plays for my team. I think about it as, wherever my coach needs me, I’m going to perform no matter what. I’m ready to have fun and ready to play, no matter where you have me on the field."
Williams is self-critical enough to concede that his overall play in the disappointing 41-point setback against two-time defending state champ Westlake wasn’t nearly good enough.
“It was just effort and attitude,” he said. “I looked at film from Westlake and I saw myself slacking on a couple of plays, so I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to go 100 percent every single play, because if I’m slacking off it could be a run coming my way and if I miss a block, then that’s yards that we lose.’”
While hopeful that more passes get thrown in his direction in upcoming games, Williams remains hungry to keep improving as a blocker.
“I think right now I’m at 8 (on a scale of 1 to 10). I can hold on to my blocks a little longer, but I try to go for kill shots,” he said. “(Receivers) Coach (Robby) Case and I were watching film and a cornerback was coming over the middle and I hit him and knocked him down, so he gave me a grade on my grade sheet for that.”
On the topic of grades, Williams said he maintains a 3.8 grade-point average and that his mother – who’s coached softball and volleyball – makes sure he prioritizes academics. He listed anatomy and physiology as his favorite class and is interested in a career as a radiologist.
Williams plans to play basketball for Temple after football season ends – he played varsity hoops for the Wildcats as a sophomore – and compete in track and field, with joining the baseball team also a possibility.
During this summer he attended football camps at Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Texas-San Antonio. He especially enjoyed his experience at TCU, drawing interest as both a receiver and a defensive back from the Horned Frogs’ coaches.
“I just want to play football for as long as I can,” Williams said, adding that he’s not against going out of state to pursue his best college opportunity.
However, as for Williams possibly moving back over to Temple’s defense, his offensive coordinator was quick to shoot down that notion, albeit in humorous fashion.
“It ain’t happening. I’ll hold onto him if I’ve got to. I’ll put his feet in concrete if I’ve got to. Slash somebody’s tires . . . I don’t care what I’ve got to do,” Sadler deadpanned. “No, I love Devan to death. Great kid. He’s all in, and that type of attitude he’s got is what’s going to get us through this little bit of a slump we’re in right now.”