The transformation of Gabe Williams into one of Red Mountain’s top players is one of sudden success that even the coaching staff couldn’t have seen coming when he first arrived on campus.
He came over from a charter school before his sophomore school year and had never played football.
Williams was a big body, but had some athleticism. He played a little offensive line, tight end and defensive end.
Playing time on the varsity was limited his junior year and it looked like he would be a depth-filler type player his senior season.
“You could see that there was something there, but you weren’t sure it would come to the surface,” Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson said. “He lost about 25 pounds and we saw a different player.
“He got nothing but speed and quickness, playing the other side of the ball after playing tackle for us last year. Now, he’s playing our hybrid position in the 3-4 and it takes advantage of every single skill he has. He came out of nowhere even for us, and we saw him every day.”
Williams, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, which is an inch tall and 10 pounds lighter than his junior year’s roster dimensions, has been a revelation for the Red Mountain defense and nightmare for the opposing offense.
He’s quick, persistent and strong. It has led to eight sacks, 10 tackles for a loss and 52 total tackles, including 14 solo.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to keep working,” Williams said. “It’s been good. I wanted to help the defense make plays as much as I can.”
Early on Williams was still learning to play the position, especially within the system.
“He was very raw only playing football for two years, so it was a matter of making him learn the game and the system,” Red Mountain defensive coordinator Kyle Enders said. “Early in the season he was just running around trying to make every play, and not playing within the scheme or what he was being coached to do.
“He learned very quickly that if he continued doing that he wouldn’t play. After a lot of coaching, film study and a few arguments that if he played within the system he would make plays that help the team.”
Williams has had several good games, but his best came in the fifth week when he had interception to set up the game-tying score and had three sacks in a win over Gilbert.
“That game really showed me what I could,” he said. “Big plays create energy, and everyone feels it. It’s something I try to do. Everyone feeds off it so when my teammates get one too I love to see that and we all get hyped.”
This week the defense has a little bit of a different assignment against Westview, which has used the Wing-T for years. This week is all about staying in your gap, staying home while still being aggressive.
It’s not the easiest thing to do but Williams said the defense is ready for the challenge.
“We really dig in against the run,” he said. “We know we can’t get caught looking in the backfield or they are just going to run right past us.”
It will be another test of Williams’ growth and maturity as he and the rest of the defense see an offensive scheme that unique in today’s game. He can’t just be aggressive and attack.
It will be another sign of progression that just might be the state’s top out-of-nowhere player.
“The sky is the limit with him,” Enders said. “If he continues to work hard in the weight room he will just be bigger and stronger. He has an extremely fast first step and great hand that always makes for a great pass rusher.”
Peterson said Williams’ transformation has been one of the best things about the season so far.
“Last year, we will just say he was handful,” Peterson said with his infectious chuckle. “He has really matured and become very coachable. It’s been really cool to see. I know when this season is over we are going to work hard to find a place for him to play (in college) as hard as he worked for us.”