FAYETTEVILLE — Defensive end Zach Williams is busy preparing for his junior season at Arkansas and he’s hoping bigger is better.
When Williams reported to Arkansas from Joe T. Robinson he didn’t look the part of an SEC defensive end though he still played as a true freshman.
“Currently I’m 260,” Williams said. “But when I came here I came in 204. So you know that is kind of a big jump. I feel like it has really helped me a lot with staying like on the line and stuff running up against Myron (Cunningham) a big boy. You can’t be weighing 200 pounds doing that. I feel like the strength aspect has helped me stay in my gap read fits and everything else and is really going to get me to the next level with what I’m trying to do here.”
Williams got bigger as a sophomore than when he was a newcomer.
“I was more like 245,” Williams said. “That’s what I think I remember. So I gained like 15 pounds. I think I’m going to gain a little bit more. Probably five or something like that. Maybe next year if I’m still here like I’ll gain a few more pounds. I’m not really – I don’t really feel any different. So I think I could still gain some more weight.”
Williams talked about what he did to gain the weight.
“The main thing I did to gain weight was eat when I’m not hungry,” Williams said. “That was big for me. Because I eat big meals but I don’t eat snacks. But that’s what you have to do and also eat a big meal before you go to bed so that’s what I’ve been doing.”
In 2020, Williams played in nine of the 10 games with four starts. He finished with 22 tackles, including nine solo, 1.5 for loss, a sack and one quarterback hurry. That was better season compared to true freshman year in 2019 when he also played in nine games finishing with 12 tackles, six solo. What about the upcoming season?
“I feel a lot better because you know I’ve gained more confidence not just from the weight but the time playing,” Williams said. “I feel a lot more comfortable. I’m not really just looking for this or that but more down to earth. I can just play and, you know do what I can do.”
The Razorbacks held their season preseason scrimmage on Saturday. Following it, Williams talked about how it went.
“It was pretty good,” Williams said. “I felt it was better than the last scrimmage because you know [the last one] was our first kind of live action and some things. This one everyone knew their assignments better and they were making less mistakes.”
Jermial Ashley is set to begin his first season coaching the defensive linemen. He was asked about Williams and how he is progressing?
“He’s doing great,” Ashley said. “He’s in there in meetings asking questions. He’s working day in and day out. He’s learning the position, growing and steady progressing.”
While Ashley wasn’t here when Williams weighed less he’s familiar with it and likes how he’s moving with the additional weight.
“Absolutely, I’ve seen the before and after pictures and it’s kind of like night and day,” Ashley said. “He is an athletic kid. The biggest thing with all the guys is learning and understanding the position. Once they get to the point of understanding what they’re doing through and through, they can kind of go out and let their bird fly.”
Eric Gregory, another defensive lineman in Williams’ recruiting class, is impressed with what Williams has done in the weight room and on the field.
“For me, man, I talked a lot about him because he was so light and I feel like he took that personal,” Gregory said. “During the offseason, he took the process of getting bigger, getting stronger and stuff like that and that really, to me, elevated his game. He can play a lot. He can play inside if he wanted to, he can play outside if he wanted to, and he still has that speed, which is very big and important. He can still bend, he’s twitchy, he can get off the ball fast. For him adding that weight on, it just made his game, made him a way better player to me.”
Super senior Dorian Gerald also likes what Williams has done in the weight room.
“I think Zach is one of the most athletic guys we have,” Williams said. “He’s huge, he can run, he can move. He took is personal when he came in and everybody was saying he was small as a D-end — small, small, small. He’s 260 now and he’s moving. I see his ceiling. His ceiling is high and I feel like he has so much potential.”
Left tackle Myron Cunningham is another super senior who goes against Williams some in practice. He is impressed with Williams.
“When I first got here, me and Zach were both a little underweight,” Cunningham said. “Throughout the years, he’s definitely gotten better. You can tell he’s gotten a lot more physical in the run game and pass game, especially with the added weight he’s put on. It just makes it harder to move him out of there.”
The Razorbacks added six new defensive linemen in the Class of 2021 and only lost three from 2020 who played significant time. Williams likes the depth and situation better now.
“It’s healthy competition, and I respect that they’re going to make us fight for a spot every day,” Williams said. “That’s going to make us all better. Outside of practice and everything football related, we all mesh very well. Like tonight, everybody is trying to do something together as a D-line. We’ve never really done that before. I feel like there’s a difference between football relationships and outside relationships, and I think that we’re equally great in both.”
Prior to last season, the Hogs had won one SEC game in three years. They won three last season. Williams credits Sam Pittman for the new attitude around the football program.
“The belief is, you know, just Coach Pittman,” Williams said. “He inspires a lot of the things that previous people really hadn’t and he’s really down to earth. He’s just a guy to fight for, and that’s really all I have to say about that. But you know once we did win those few games, it just gave us like a drive that I feel like the team hasn’t really felt in a while. And you know, even the games we lost were close games, like they weren’t better than us, but that’s what we all like to feed off of because we can be really great this year and they don’t have anybody better than us. We might have some people better than them, then just vice versa you know, for different positions.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Monday.