Notes: Williams' transformation, Benton a rising star, youngsters flash
Monday morning, first-year assistant coach Ross Kolodziej and four veteran defensive linemen met with local media.
Senior Bryson Williams detailed his body transformation throughout his time at UW, praise flowed in for junior Keeanu Benton, and two young players were mentioned as standouts through three practices.
Bryson Williams undergoes massive body changes following surgery
Williams, 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, saw the field as a true freshman, but it has been far from a smooth ascension since then. The former three-star prospect saw action in all 13 games in 2018 but was forced to sit out much of the following season with a significant knee injury.
"I had a pretty serious knee surgery my sophomore year and I gained a lot of weight. I was at about 320 and I felt terrible. I was slow. I wasn’t any stronger than I was at 290. Just 30 pounds heavier, which is really not good," Williams told reporters Monday morning. "I ended up losing about 60 pounds in a couple months and got down to 260 and really just had to hit the reset button and gain that weight back in the best way I can, so that’s what I’ve been doing."
Williams, a nose tackle over the past three seasons, is listed at 280 pounds but is hoping to be around 290 when the season rolls around.
"I’ve been down to about 285 and I feel the best I ever have, even before my surgery, so I’m just going to continue to do that and continue to gain weight," he said. "Hoping to be around 295 come season time."
Now healthy, Williams' weight loss should give him position flexibility in 2021.
"I’m here to help the team in any way I can. If that means me playing end, if that means me playing nose, whatever I can do to help the team and be a benefit to the team, that’s what I’m going to do," Williams said. "I’ve been getting reps at both positions. Wherever they need me to go, I’ll be there and being around 295 allows me to play both."
Keeanu Benton a rising star
The defensive line is younger and more inexperienced in comparison to last year, but there is still a lot of talent in the room. Atop the list is nose tackle Keeanu Benton, who is in line for a big junior season.
"Keeanu, he’s a special player," defensive end Matt Henningsen said. "Since he got here, he was able to put his body in certain positions and do certain things other young guys couldn’t do. And now that he’s transitioning into one of the older guys, we’re expecting him to be more of a playmaker than he has been in the past.
"He’s an exceptional leader, an exceptional person, an exceptional teammate and the whole group, the d-line, we mesh together, we’re having a lot of fun."
The Janesville, Wis., native is embracing that challenge as he walks away from being a young player who has flashed to one of the leaders in the room.
"My goal, individually, is to dominate, and I feel like I can dominate," Benton said.
Benton hasn't been able to practice just yet this spring but he has remained a leader within the group. He will return in a few weeks as he tends to a leg injury, a UW official said.
"I feel like I've learned more from teaching because when I have to teach, I have to know more about the defense in general," Benton added.
Benton, who had eight total tackles in 2020, now slides into a role as one of the anchors of the defensive line, a unit that has been productive in the past for UW.
"Keeanu is special. A really special player and we’re fortunate to have him," Kolodziej said. "Excited to be able to coach and work with him. He’s got great athleticism and a really great understanding of pressure and how to use his body and use blockers' position and momentum against them.
"Not many come in here with the talent, ability and ceiling that he has."
Young players flashing so far in practice
Through three practices, there have already been some players standing out. And with the departures of Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk, the emergence of some young talent is a welcomed sight.
So far, according to Kolodziej, Williams and Benton, redshirt sophomore Rodas Johnson and true freshman Mike Jarvis have stepped up.
"In terms of who has stood out, Rodas Johnson has had an unbelievable first three practices," Kolodziej said. "His challenge is going to be if he can continue to improve at that level."
Johnson, a former four-star recruit out of Ohio, is looking to take a big leap after redshirting his freshman year. At 6-foot-2 and 293 pounds, Johnson will be battling for reps alongside Henningsen and Isaiah Mullens, the two projected starters at end.
"Rodas Johnson has stepped up a ton this spring," Williams added. "He brings a ton of energy, a ton of enthusiasm and just works hard. He was running faster than most linebackers on Saturday, so I've seen a lot of good stuff from him."
Jarvis, an early enrollee, also garnered some praise.
"It’s a lot for a young guy to enroll early, especially as a lineman, and then to have to compete, really in the two-deep, I think he’s doing well as well," Kolodziej said of Jarvis.
"He (Jarvis) came out, just like me, I was young and I wasn’t technically sound, but you can definitely see that his effort is there and that goes a long way when you’re playing big-boy ball," Benton added. "He may not have the strength or technique there yet, but we’re definitely going to get him there. I like that he’s going asking people for help and not just sitting back and trying to figure it out on his own."