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December 18, 2013

The impact of 'Duke'

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AUBURN | The signing of five-star junior college receiver D'haquille Williams, also known as 'Duke', was a major development for the immediate future of Auburn football.

The nation's top rushing offense just signed the nation's best receiver prospect - regardless of prep or junior college. The talents of Williams exceeds the talents of the best high school receiver coming out this year and his experience makes him a game changer starting in the spring.

Williams was pegged to attend LSU. He's from Louisiana and originally committed to LSU during the spring, but things changed and Auburn took advantage. Williams de-committed from LSU less than two weeks after committing and later committed to Auburn during his July official visit.

He remained firm throughout the process, until this fall. That's when Auburn's record-breaking rushing attack kicked into high gear and Auburn's season took off. The Tigers were gashing opponents with the run game and throwing minimally. Against Arkansas and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks, Nick Marshall only threw 16 total passes. Auburn still scored 90 points in the two games.

It seemed almost everyone was thrilled with Auburn's success, except Williams. He believed in receivers coach Dameyune Craig and head coach Gus Malzahn. He knew Auburn was a program on the rise, but junior college prospects have to weigh their options in more detail than even high school prospects.

Their time is limited.

Williams wants to play now. He wants to be an elite SEC receiver now. Williams has two years of eligibility remaining and the thought of playing at a school that rushes the ball 65 percent of the time caused Williams great concern.

That's where the Auburn coaching staff shined.

"Coach Craig talks to me about being a big-play receiver and I trust him and Coach Malzahn," Williams told AuburnSports.com in November. "They think I can be an impact player."

Craig had gained Williams trust. Williams believed in what the Auburn coaching staff's vision was for him. When LSU made a late push for Williams' services, Auburn held on and landed arguably the best receiver prospect they've ever signed.

[Tigers ink four]

The 6-foot-3 Williams will be paired with returning junior Sammie Coates to form a dynamic duo. Coates, standing 6-foot-2, is second nationally in yards per catch. Entering the BCS National Championship game, Coates has 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He's averaging over 22 yards every reception.

Williams possesses the same potential.

"Any time you've got a dynamic guy like him coming, that's a really good thing," Malzahn said on Wednesday.

Williams racked up 2,028 yards and 26 touchdowns in two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast. His talent is undeniable, but Williams' God-given abilities are only part of his story.

Emotion makes Williams go, and passion. Unadulterated passion.

Here's a pregame speech Williams gave that ended up on YouTube. It's worth the watch.

I attended Mississippi Gulf Coast's game against Jones County this fall. MGCCC lost the game 52-42, but Williams excelled. The Auburn signee caught 11 passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns.

However, his performance on the field wasn't the takeaway. It was Williams' raw emotions during and after the game that made him an unbelievably intriguing prospect.

Williams told AuburnSports.com in November, "It's the game I play and live and die for, I give up my body for. It's my only way out so I have to make it. I can't make any mistakes, there's no margin for error. Everything happens for a reason. It's in the past and now I'm read to ball, step up and be a man. When that play needs to be made, I'll make that play. Point blank, period."

From failing to qualify out of high school, to working through difficult life circumstances that Williams prefers not to discuss in detail, it's all made Williams a driven and motivated prospect.

Following the loss, a visibly upset Williams was inconsolable on the field. It was an intense moment that revealed what Williams was all about: winning.

Williams actions could have been taken for immaturity. There are certainly elements of Williams' game that need improving, like his down field blocking and running precise routes even when the ball isn't intended for him, but Williams' drive will be the determining factor in regards to his future success.

And the Auburn coaching staff is the perfect group to facilitate his development.



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