It’s not that Williams doesn’t take the comments of his coaches seriously. It’s just that they’re expected. What really gnaws at Williams’ conscience is hearing criticism from his teammate, Rennie Curran.
“Truthfully, every play, you think, oh man, I’ve got to be on my Ps and Qs,” Williams said. “I have to be on top of my game because you have a guy like Rennie, and every play he’s going hard. When I’m out on the field, I’m just like, I’m going to match Rennie.”
The irony is that Curran is a mere six months older than Williams, but the mystique surrounding Curran’s status as Georgia’s most vocal defensive leader has nothing to do with age.
A year ago, Curran entered his sophomore season as an up-and-coming talent still overshadowed by more accomplished players. But as the injuries mounted and the defense collapsed, it was the voice of the undersized linebacker from Snellville that galvanized the locker room.
On the field, he racked up 115 tackles, the second most in the SEC and the best total by a Georgia player in a decade. But it was off the field where Curran really made his mark.
“With Rennie, it was just something that grew on him,” junior Akeem Dent said. “He knows he has a responsibility, so he’s taking charge.”
This season, Curran is firmly established as the frontman for what the Bulldogs hope will be a defensive resurgence.
On the field, he knows where every player should be on any given play. Off the field, he’s the model for the younger players of how to do things the right way.
“It’s awesome because I always dreamed of being a Bulldog and dreamed of the day when I switched from being that kid who looked up to players to where now, I’m that guy,” Curran said.
This offseason, he organized voluntary workouts, set records in the weight room and helped the incoming freshmen with everything from conditioning to the playbook.
Beyond his work in Athens, Curran visited his old high school and, between signing autographs for the students, gave several talks on finding success through hard work and dedication.
He went to churches and talked about his faith and how it has helped him succeed both on and off the football field.
He went to hospitals and talked to patients about overcoming obstacles.
He visited his old neighborhood and found that, despite all the fame he’s earned during the past year, he still fit right in with his old friends.
“It’s a good feeling when you go back home and everybody’s proud and you can affect people,” Curran said. “I think that’s so much bigger than football. It’s what you do with it, what you do with that platform.”
Freshman linebacker Chase Vasser was still a junior in high school in Gainesville when he first heard of Curran. A friend had actually shown Vasser some game film of Curran as a model for how Vasser should approach playing linebacker.
When Vasser visited Georgia later that year, he was shocked to learn that Curran already knew who he was. For the next two years, Curran took Vasser under his wing, helping him work on his game and easing the transition to college.
“I met him two years ago, and he’s been my mentor ever since,” Vasser said. “When I committed, he was actually the first player I met. From then on, we were texting. He built me up, let me know what to get prepared for.”
As much as Curran loves laying out a hit or tossing around massive weights in the gym, it’s the role of teacher he enjoys the most.
“You can’t be a leader without being a servant and being able to just really bring up the ability of the guys around you, raise that attitude and set the tempo,” Curran said.
That’s the mark of a great leader, Curran said. He can lead the team in tackles again or earn All-America honors, but those aren’t the goals he has set for himself.
As good as Curran might be, he’s more concerned with making everyone else better. That’s why he’s so quick to offer a critique of something Williams has done on the practice field. But the compliments flow just as freely, Williams said. And they mean so much more.
“Even though he gets on you about doing something wrong, he’ll be the first to congratulate you, too,” Williams said. “And whenever he tells me good job, I’m like, OK, if I look good for him, I know the coaches like it.”