CEDAR FALLS — Xavior Williams has been getting a lot less sleep these past few months.
In fact, Monday night was not a great night.
It was almost a year ago when Williams, Northern Iowa’s all-conference cornerback/safety, became a first time father when he and his girlfriend, former Panther softball player Alicia Crivaro, welcomed daughter Miley on Sept. 27.
Williams found out minutes before UNI played a Thursday night game at Indiana State that Miley had been born.
“Kate Deakins (UNI’s director of football operations in 2018) had my phone and she kept me updated,” Williams said. “She was telling whenever she was born and that she was all healthy.
“Last night, it was rough,” Williams added. “She is walking, was walking at 8 1/2 months. But she is the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
The lack of sleep last year and through one game this season has not hindered Williams’ play on the field.
For the second straight season in 2018, Williams picked off four passes while earning while earning first team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors at cornerback. With eight career interceptions, Williams needs two this season to climb into the Top-10 all-time at UNI for career interceptions.
With four days notice last week, Williams switched to free safety and was a major factor in UNI’s near upset of Iowa State. Williams had three pass break ups and returned a fumble 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“Probably one of the best games I’ve played,” said Williams, a 2016 Burlington of Notre Dame graduate. “I felt really good playing at free safety.”
Panther defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson said he told Williams they were switching him to safety on Tuesday of last week.
But the truth behind the switch is it started last spring. Williams spent all 15 of UNI’s spring practice learning the safety position before spending much of the Panthers’ preseason camp back at corner.
“There is a method to the madness,” Panther head coach Mark Farley said of having Williams play safety in the spring. “You got to get them ready so you can move players in three days. So, we can play two different fronts and things that we do because we are pretty multiple and we are only multiple because our players are intelligent.
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“Credit his (Williams’) intelligence and experience so he can do a lot of things for us.”
This isn’t the first time UNI’s utilized a talented defensive player by teaching him to play multiple defensive back positions. Deiondre Hall from 2012 to 2015 played corner, safety and linebacker for the Panthers before embarking on a three-year NFL career. (Hall was one of the Philadelphia Eagles final cuts on Aug. 30. He would’ve been beginning his fourth season this Sunday).
Johnson compares Williams a lot to Hall.
“It was good for Deiondre, Deiondre could do both,” Johnson said. “Physically they are different, but also very similar in terms of the amount of fast twitch they have. Deiondre was a little bit longer, but ‘X’ has a really high ceiling and the more he continues to grow and learn the more that (NFL conversation) takes care of itself.”
Asked if he was going to stay at safety for the Panthers, Williams deferred to Farley.
“We always try to put our guys into a position to play to their strengths,” Farley explained. “Xavior was playing to his strength and to Iowa State’s strength (last week). I felt he could take some things away for us.
“Now, maybe Southern Utah (this week’s opponent) has different kinds of strengths so you might see him in different spots.”
Williams looks taller than the 5-foot-11 he is listed at and he’s added some strength to his frame and is now listed at 184 pounds.
Johnson says he has grown tremendously as a person and player in the four years he has been in Cedar Falls.
‘Xavior has learned the game of football,” Johnson said. “When he was young he just got away with gross athleticism. Now, every opportunity he is out here on this practice field he is working on his craft and getting better and understanding football a little better than when we got him.
“Frankly, moving from corner to safety and safety to corner kind of forces you to understand football better. It has really helped him to get better and improve his overall game.”
Williams has also been an explosive punt and kicker for UNI and if there was one request he has for the UNI’s coaching staff it is if he could play offense. As a senior at Notre Dame/Burlington, Williams racked up 1,847 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, and he rushed for 799 yards and 10 more scores.
“It is up to that man right there,” Williams said while nodding toward Farley during this week’s UNI football press conference if he was staying at safety. “Whatever they want me to play, I will play. Especially, offense, if he wants me to.”