Illinois football is losing one of the greatest wide receivers in program history.
This is another blow to the Illinois roster, but it is one that I expected. Williams’ 2023 campaign was overshadowed by Jer’Zhan Newton’s huge year and status entering the upcoming draft. But let’s not get things misconstrued, Williams has had one of the biggest impacts on the program over the past half-decade.
Williams came into the Illinois program as a quarterback. He played the position for two seasons and tried to help stabilize a sinking Illini team in 2020. Williams still managed to throw for 445 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions. The fact he had more touchdowns than interceptions is something not a lot of Illinois quarterbacks can say they accomplished in the past decade.
As a quarterback, Williams’ legs really set him apart. He rushed for 389 yards and a touchdown during the 2020 season, which really caused problems for teams.
After the previous coaching regime was let go, Bret Bielema stepped in. Williams made the switch to wide receiver and the rest is history. Williams had over 1,200 yards receiving in his first two years at the position, and in 2023, he would have 1,055 yards receiving for the program.
Williams made the All-Big Ten first team this season. He was second in the Big Ten in receiving yards. Williams also etched his name on numerous Illinois football records. This kid was truly special for the program.
I want to say thank you to Illinois football wide receiver legend Isaiah Williams
We could talk about Williams’ great abilities and his talent all day long. We could chat about the records he now owns or the lists he has made and will forever don as long as there are record books. But there is one thing that stands out the most to me.
Thank you, Isaiah Williams, for sticking with us through thick and thin.
Williams took a gamble on the Illinois football team. He picked the Illini over numerous other programs. Williams decided to come to Champaign, though. This meant a lot to the Illini fanbase.
It wasn’t an easy journey either. I wouldn’t have blamed Williams for bolting after the 2019 season where he didn’t get much playing time. This kid is a great athlete, and he could have gone somewhere else to show off his ability.
Illinois went through a coaching overhaul in December 2020 after a bad COVID campaign. With the transfer portal changing, Williams could have easily bolted for greener pastures.
Bielema came into the program. Williams switched positions to wide receiver, but he could have easily been hardheaded and said he wanted to just be a quarterback. That could have caused him to transfer.
After a good 2021 campaign where Williams had 47 receptions for 525 yards and four touchdowns, I am sure he had big programs eyeing him for a transfer portal option. Illinois still wasn’t able to find a good quarterback yet, so transferring out had to be enticing.
The crazy part about everything I said above is that none of it happened. Williams didn’t bolt after not getting playing time. He didn’t transfer when a coaching staff change happened. He didn’t find a new home when he changed positions. And he didn’t try to get to a larger program when he saw success at wide receiver.
Williams committed to Illinois a half-decade ago, and he remained committed throughout a turbulent time in Champaign. As an Illini fan, I don’t think players know, or maybe even care, how much that commitment means. I am forever grateful to have had a chance to watch Williams play for the Illini, and I can’t wait to see what he does at the next level. Thank you for everything, Isaiah. You are forever an Illini legend.