Williams, Beason make early impact
August 6, 2019
One of the main factors creating optimism around the upcoming Illini football season is new talent brought in by Lovie Smith. In particular, two freshmen — quarterback Isaiah Williams and cornerback Marquez Beason — have high expectations placed upon them.
With both players coming to Champaign ranked as four-star top 100 national recruits, many are eager to see them on the field and contributing as soon as possible. However, both face distinct obstacles they must overcome before cementing their place is the starting lineup.
For Beason, the challenge will be learning a new position. The freshman is converting to cornerback after playing receiver his senior season at Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas.
“I just got to come in and learn the ropes,” Beason said. “Just take it from there. Just come in one day at a time and work hard.”
One of the toughest parts of transitioning to a new position can be learning new technique to play and succeed in a different spot. However, given his speed and athleticism, Beason feels he’s up to the challenge.
“(I) really just use my athleticism, but the big part is the technique,” Beason said. “The technique is very different, but I’m a little better one day at a time.”
Though he knows there is still plenty of hard work to come, Beason is happy with his choice to attend to Illinois. Big-name programs have a habit of flipping kids, especially those committed to less successful schools, late in the recruiting process, and Beason certainly had offers. But the Illini’s new number three believed the program was home for him.
“(It was a) home environment,” Beason said. “When I first came down here, it felt like a home right away.”
For Williams, the challenge is not as much under his control. He’s currently in competition with Brandon Peters for the starting quarterback position. While Lovie Smith praised both at his Media Day press conference during training camp, he did mention Peters is ready to play right away, while having to teach Williams the ropes may be in the future of the program, a possible nod that Peters could get the starting job to open the season.
Williams knows the challenge to win the starting job will be tough, but he’s prepared to do everything he can to get better and show the coaches what kind of a player he is.
“I have felt it, but I’m not getting discouraged about it,” Williams said. “I’m just continuing to get better every single day and (learning). That’s just the biggest thing for me: to learn everything and just soak everything up and keep getting better.”
Williams even praised his competitor, showing there may be some truth to Smith’s idea that Peters is helping the freshman develop the tools to lead the program to success down the line. A seasoned veteran who’s been a part of a nationally-ranked program for the past three seasons could seriously aid a talented incoming freshman looking to be successful at the college level.
“Brandon Peters (is) a great quarterback,” Williams said. “The way he carries himself, how he’s learning the playbook just like me. But he uses different strategies, so picking up on those strategies. How he throws the ball, watching him throw the ball. Almost everything I’m just watching, learning from him.”
Beason and Williams have also developed a close, playful relationship so far into their time together at Illinois. At Illinois Media Days, Beason didn’t hesitate to grab a mic and laughingly ask Williams what his thoughts of him were in front of a frenzy of reporters, and Williams offered up an entertaining quote in response.
“I wanted (Beason) on the offensive side of the ball, but he can’t catch,” Williams said.
Given the physical talents of the two players, a package incorporating both of them on the field together could certainly excite Illini fans this upcoming season.
After the reporters’ laughter died down, the freshman quarterback offered a more serious answer, praising his new teammate, and friend, on adapting to the college game.
“He’s learning just how I’m learning, but he’s picking it all up. He’s gonna do big things,” Williams said.
The duo serves as the first tangible evidence that Lovie Smith’s vision for the program is resonating with talented high school players, and if they can earn their way onto the field and produce early on, there could be more high school players ranked similarly to them coming in soon.
And while Beason and Williams appear to be close friends, it seems they will be in a never-ending competition to one-up and push each other to do better, as evidenced by Williams’ comparison of the two’s speed with Beason watching on smiling.
“He’s faster, but I’m quicker though,” Williams said.