Redshirt Report: C.J. McWilliams
During the beginning weeks of the offseason, Inside the Gators will take an in-depth look at how last season went for Florida's 2016 signees who redshirted with our Redshirt Report series. Today, we focus on how last season went for cornerback C.J. McWilliams.
C.J. McWilliams hoped to potentially compete for playing time as a freshman summer enrollee this past season, but the chances of that happening ended early on in fall training camp.
Not even a week into fall practices, McWilliams’ 2016 season took an unfortunate turn, as the former three-star cornerback out of Miami Southwest High School suffered a season-ending torn ACL. McWilliams was placed on the redshirting path as he watched on often from the sideline during the Gators’ 2016 season.
“There was a drill and somebody fell into his leg the wrong way. One of the teammates fell on the leg and it came out awkward,” said McWilliams’ stepfather, Ell Fance. “He’s never had a serious injury before that one. You know it’s hard for anybody. From here on, it’s about working to get where you were.”
So far, McWilliams’ recovery process from his ACL injury has gone well, as he’s been cleared to start running, according to his stepfather. If everything goes according to plan for McWilliams, he expects to participate in spring practices in a non-contact capacity before returning to the mix in the fall at 100%.
“It’s going good, he’s ahead of schedule,” Fance said. It’s a process considering he just had it in September but he’s way ahead of schedule so he’s doing a lot of running now. It’s looking good. … The coaches are concerned, they don’t want him making contact in the spring when you’re playing each other. They want him in the fall at 100%, but he will be participating in practice.”
During his redshirt season, McWilliams grew accustomed to Gainesville and bonded with many of his coaches and teammates, who were there to help lift his spirits while he nursed his injury.
“He loved it. I mean, those guys are like family,” Fance said. “When he was injured, they checked on him. They’re around each other 24/7. For him it’s like home. In terms of the decision that he made, we’re happy with it. The coaching staff is awesome, time and time they’ll give me updates or the head trainer, he’s always calling me. That’s what you want as a parent, they’re like the parents away from home.
“It’s not just about football, they’ll let you know about academics as well. He loves it. If he had to do it again, he wouldn’t choose any other place. It’s the place for him.”
McWilliams’ time with the strength and conditioning staff and nutrition program has also been beneficial. Arriving at 167-168 pounds at 5-foot-11 in the summer, McWilliams has since put on roughly 10 pounds and is now in the 178-179 range, according to his father.
“They’re going to start their workouts now that the season is over so I predict by the time summertime comes around he'll be easily in the 180s,” Fance said. “For him, he’s a speedy guy, so he’ll be in the 180s.”
Moving forward, McWilliams expects to compete for reps at one of the outside cornerback spots. With Jalen “Teez” Tabor and Quincy Wilson turning pro, there should be an open competition for snaps at those two spots this offseason. Versatile defensive backs Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner could end up seeing time there, while McWilliams, 2016 JUCO signee Joseph Putu and fellow redshirt freshman McArthur Burnett will also make their cases for playing time at cornerback.
Currently, Florida has 2017 four-star cornerbacks Marco Wilson and Elijah Blades committed and could still possibly land more options by the time National Signing Day is wrapped up.
“From what I’ve heard, I’d say outside corner,” Fance said. “If he gets that knee healthy, that’s where he will be. I haven’t heard anything about nickel yet, things change from time to time. But since he got there, all we’ve been hearing is outside corner.”
At that spot, McWilliams’ greatest attributes are his blend of speed, length and physicality.
“With him, you don’t see many corners who like to hit,” Fance said. “If you look at his tape, they had him at safety in high school because he was the last line of defense with his speed and vision. He didn’t get much time at corner, that’s where he would have been but where he played that’s where he had to be. But if you watch his tape, he’s a hitter. To have that luxury of someone who has speed and likes to tackle, I think that’s a good asset. That’s something they will get to see - most people haven’t had a chance to see him yet.”
McWilliams is looking forward to getting back on the field this offseason and continuing to learn Florida’s playbook and schemes under new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon – the assistant who pursued McWilliams the hardest during his recruitment process.
“He’s not a talker, he’s not a person that enjoys the limelight. He’s just a person that when he gets on the field, that’s when people will notice and that’s always happened over the years,” Fance said of McWilliams. “With him it’s just showing people what he’s got. A lot of people don’t know of him. If you’re not a four- or five-star, people tend to doubt you, so for him it’s letting his play do the talking."
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