JSU EIU action

Jacksonville State's Traco Williams tackles Eastern Illinois' Aaron Gooch during the JSU and EIU OVC football game. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State’s Traco Williams wears No. 13, but that number couldn’t be luckier for the Gamecocks.

Williams is entering this senior year an all-league safety, and he and other experienced returning players are why JSU is picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference for the sixth straight year. He is a three-year starter and one of the leaders of the JSU defense.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t even make first- or second-team all-state as a senior at Valley High School.

“He’s been here a long time,” Jacksonville State head coach John Grass said. “To have that experience back, you can’t put a price tag on that. He’s made a lot of plays and learned a lot of football.”

It isn’t just the experience that has made Williams valuable — it’s what he’s done with it.

“Not everybody would know this, but he’s one of the smartest IQ-wise in football intelligence that we have on the football team,” Grass said. “He gets everybody on the back end lined up, gets them where they’re supposed to go. Knows where he’s supposed to be. Has real good coverage skills.

“Take his football IQ and his ability, and that makes him a real good player.”

Williams said that as a senior, he’s trying even harder than he did in the past to serve as a leader.

“To come here as a senior this year, seeing the young guys come in, it’s making me a better player and, overall, a leader,” he said after a recent practice. “That’s the main thing — being a leader, showing the young guys how I did it. You’ve got to do it because you aren’t going to be here doing it long.”

The experience has made him more certain about what’s happening on the field — the football IQ, which Grass mentioned.

“I kind of know what I’m going to get,” Williams said. “There’s nothing anybody can do to trick me. I’ve already seen everything.”

Williams played plenty as a freshman and even started the Gamecocks’ FCS playoff loss to Youngstown State at the end of the season.

He has started 24 career games, made 133 tackles and intercepted four passes — all last year when he led the team in that category.

He still recalls that first start: “I was nervous. I was all ready to play, but the nervousness and getting past that was big.”

Even now, with all his playing time and knowledge, he said he still gets some nerves before a game.

“If you love the game, you always are going to have nerves,” he said. “You’ve got to get through that first tackle, that first hit, that first play, then you’re ready to play.”

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.