By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Consider this amazing, unbelievable moment for a second and process what happened. Your eyes did not deceive you: That was 6-foot-2 man-child Kasen Williams leaping over Washington State cornerback Nolan Washington in last year’s Apple Cup.
It was stunning. Extraordinary. The average person simply doesn’t leap over another person like that. Then again, from the time Williams stepped on a football field at the University of Washington, he’s been far from average.
Perhaps no play in Williams’ solid freshman season better exemplifies all that he can do and can be on a football field. And that play, that image is what faces Williams in 2012.
How do you top that?
The burden is on Willams this season to be a game-changer, a next-level player, a Husky great — to become what Husky fans and football experts envisioned before he had even taken a snap in a college football game. Realistically for the Huskies to have legitimate success this season and beyond, Williams needs to make that ascent.
The Huskies will need him. Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar and their 42 combined career touchdowns catches are gone, their eligibilty used up, and senior James Johnson will spend the season’s first month on the sidelines injured.
So, can Williams make the next great leap in his career, the leap from potential to playmaker, from sophomore to superstardom?
Sounding confident, without being cocky, Williams doesn’t run away from the question. He grabs it and owns it like a spiraling football flying through the air.
“I want to hold myself to that high of a level,” he said. “I expect big things from myself this season. I want to take that next step.”
It’s easy to say, but not to do. Even for someone as monumentally talented and gifted as Williams, more still needs to be demanded and given.
It started in the offseason weight training where Williams somehow added about 10 pounds of muscle to a frame that seemed to have no room for it.
“It was workouts every day,” he said.
It continued this summer when he and Keith Price spent hours working on pass routes.
“The only way to get better is if we continue working,” he said. “You have to do the extra stuff, the stuff other people weren’t doing.”
It carried over to practice where Williams has played with a higher level of intensity and focus day in and day out that was only seen periodically last season.
“I want to prove something this year,” he said. “There were a lot of times last season where I left practice and felt I didn’t work as hard as I should have. I’m not doing that this year.”
This year, he’s battled and jawed with cornerbacks, cursed himself for dropped passes and used his increased size and strength to manhandle defenders.
“You just don’t get anointed as the top receiver,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You earn it.”
It’s something Williams truly started to grasp in spring practice after a few sluggish outings.
“To make that next step, you have to establish that attitude from the first day,” he said. “And it has to be every day.”
His coaches have noticed the change this fall.
“Kasen has had a very, very consistent camp,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He’s playing at a high level and he’s really embraced the opportunity he sees it out there for himself.”
Some players can get satisfied with being good, but not Williams. He’s always courted greatness.
In his four years at Skyline High School, he grew into one of the most decorated and dominant receivers in Washington high school history. His list of accomplishments and accolades could fill a small textbook. As a senior, he was on multiple All-American lists, and he was named the Parade All-America National Player of the Year — the first in state history.
From the moment he committed to the Huskies, the affable Williams was engulfed by hype, hyperbole and expectations not of his own doing.
He was supposed to be better than Mario Bailey and Reggie Williams from the very moment he donned the purple and gold.
And yet, it didn’t come easy. He was 18 years old and trying to adjust to playing football in one of the best conferences in the country. There were ups and downs. Brilliant catches, highlight-reel plays and touchdown catches were followed by nagging injuries, botched assignments and dropped passes. He caught 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns. They were respectable numbers to be sure, but not good enough for Williams.
“I definitely have a lot of expectations for myself and they are very high,” he said.
As high as those of Husky fans?
“I don’t pay attention to what people say on the Internet and things,” he said. “It’s about what I want to do and need to do to help the team win.”
What he needs to do help his team win is to take another leap. It’s a leap he can make. It’s a leap into a role he seemed destined for from the time he started playing football. It’s the leap to superstardom.
“I want the ball as often I can get it and make things happens when I get it,” he said. “I want to be a playmaker. I think they expect me to be one. I prepared myself this season to do some things and that’s my goal. I want to prove something this year.”