JACKSONVILLE – Mitch Stewart doesn't hide his feelings for Quincy Williams.
"He's my guy," Stewart told Jaguars Radio and jaguars.com this week.
Stewart, head football coach at Murray State University, feels that way for many reasons. One is that Williams was Stewart's last recruit to sign with him as a Murray State assistant. Another is more pertinent to the Jaguars, who selected the linebacker in Round 3 of the 2019 NFL Draft.
"He tries to bend your face mask every chance he gets," Stewart said. "I've never seen him get knocked back on contact."
That physicality helped Williams be a draft-weekend surprise – and the Jaguars indeed surprised many by selecting him No. 98 overall in the '19 draft.
But while Williams' status as an FCS player meant his selection surprised analysts, NFL people knew Williams well. Stewart said teams called during the draft indicating Williams would be selected late in Round 3 or in Round 4 – and San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the draft, "That guy went exactly where he should have gone."
"He's a really good player," Shanahan said.
Williams (5-feet-11, 225) – the older brother of former Alabama defensive tackle and 2019 No. 3 overall selection Quinnen Williams of the New York Jets – played in 43 games during his collegiate career with 231 tackles (142 solo), 18 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. But as much as statistics, what stood out about Williams collegiately was speed and hitting force.
"That's his biggest strength," Stewart said. "Every scout that came through would say, 'This guy's got old-school contact courage.' When you watch his tape, that's the first thing you see. The act of hitting somebody is not normal. When something's coming at you, the normal human reaction is to duck or move out of the way, or dodge, or turn your head, or stop your feet.
"You try to teach these defenders to get your feet hot and run your feet on contact. That was the thing that stuck out immediately about Quincy, Day One on campus – immediately. Quincy never had that issue. It doesn't matter what programs we faced – even the big-money games, against an SEC team or an ACC team – I've never seen that kid get knocked backward. He's always going forward."
Also standing out about Williams was his perseverance.
Stewart, then Murray State's offensive coordinator, recruited Williams out of Birmingham (Ala.) Wenonah High School. He had to lobby hard with school officials for Williams because of what Stewart remembered as a low standardized test score.
"He's got a soft spot in my heart," Stewart said. "He's a great kid. He's a big, smiling kid and has a great personality. He's a zest-for-life type of guy. He's not lazy. He doesn't walk around rubbing around his eyes and all that kind of stuff. When his feet hit the floor, he has purpose in what he's doing."
And while Williams emerged as a standout player for the Racers, success wasn't automatic.
"One thing I respect about Quincy is he did it the tough way, the hard way," Stewart said. "He was here for five years and he did the redshirt deal his first year. Anybody who's even remotely familiar with college football knows kids aren't into that schedule anymore. They want it now and when they don't get it now, they'll transfer. It's kind of the college landscape and the way is now.
"He came in. He redshirted. He did the look squads. He would come to the offensive side and do the look squad – all of that stuff. He was a five-year guy."
Stewart said Williams' college career also was made difficult by the Racers having to move him around in the lineup to make up for injuries elsewhere – a pattern that only stopped when first-year defensive coordinator Jake Johnson committed to playing Williams at linebacker this past season.
"At the FCS level, a lot of times it's not the backup who plays if there's an injury," Stewart said. "It's the next-best guy. You're just trying to get the best 11 on the field. That hurt his development a little, I think.
"Jake Johnson did a fabulous job with him. Quincy was a guy he kind of earmarked and said, 'He's going to stay at linebacker. I'm not moving him back to safety. I want to see how good this kid can get.'"
Stewart this week also discussed Marquez Sanford, a Murray State cornerback who signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted collegiate free agent after starting 32 of 44 career games with five interceptions and 31 passes defensed.
"One thing you'll notice about him is he has tremendous confidence in himself," Stewart said. "He's not going to turn it down against anybody. He's not going to be intimidated. He's very comfortable in coverage.
"I believe he'll turn some heads when he's in camp. He just has that confidence about him."