EMU's Williams: 'We look like a football team, finally'

By Al Willman
Special to The Detroit News
Eastern Michigan's Nigel Kilby, left, catches a pass in front of Missouri's Anthony Sherrils on Sept. 10.

Ypsilanti — For years, one watching an Eastern Michigan football game knew when the game was nearly over. The Eagles looked obviously worn out.

This season, the team’s energy has been present for the majority of the game, which is not lost on redshirt junior linebacker Derric Williams (Lake Orion).

“We look like a football team, finally,” he said.

The question that prompted that answer, believe it or not, had nothing to do with the Eagles (4-2, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) getting out to their best start since 1995.

It didn’t even directly relate to Saturday’s 35-20 homecoming loss to Toledo.

It was a question asked of Williams — once The Detroit News’ No. 47 ranked recruit from Michigan, whose major has changed from criminal justice to communications — on what he wants to do after his football career ends.

And even that’s a surprise.

“Actually, I want to be a strength coach,” said Williams, now a sports performance and entrepreneurship major.

He said the inspiration behind that choice was former EMU strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery, who was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff, as well as strength coach at the Universities of South Florida and Tennessee.

McKeefery left the team for the private sector following the 2015 season.

Williams missed the 2014 season with an injury, but said McKeefery still found ways to include him in workouts, despite being unable to practice.

“He just kept on encouraging me positively,” Williams said. “I was hurt and I couldn’t practice or anything, but he always had a workout for me. He would always come by and see how I was doing.

“He just encouraged 120 men to follow his lead. That was really impactful on my life. He’s just a great guy, a great family guy. I love Coach Mac.”

Going back on the road

The Eagles, who are 2-1 on the road this season, will head to Athens, Ohio to take on the Ohio Bobcats at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles last played the Bobcats on Oct. 19, 2013 — three weeks before Ron English was fired as coach —  losing 56-28 in Ypsilanti.

EMU’s last win over Ohio came on Oct. 16, 1999, when the Eagles blocked the would-be game-tying extra point on the way to the 27-26 win at Rynearson Stadium.

Ohio is on a three-game winning streak, following Saturday’s 30-24 home win over Bowling Green.

“Their reputation is well-earned,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “Just watching film in the last couple days confirms that. (Ohio is) just a classy program, number one. And then two, (it’s) very physical, tough, well-coached (and) disciplined. (The Bobcats) don’t beat themselves, (they) play the game the right way in all three phases. You can easily see why they’ve been good and they’ve been built to last, and is not just a team that spikes occasionally.

“They are absolutely what I talked to these guys in the locker room about, and confirmed again in our meeting last night. This is going to be a team that we are going to have to be smart, we’re going to have to be disciplined and we’re really going to have to minimize mistakes.”

Bobcats 12-year coach Frank Solich, who coached at Nebraska from 1998-2003, is 142-82 in his career.

After Ohio, Eastern plays at No. 24 ranked Western Michigan (6-0) on Oct. 22 and wraps up the second half of the season at home against Miami and at Ball State, before closing out the season at home against Northern Illinois and Central Michigan.

“The thing for us is we believe we’re going to be in close, tight football games the rest of the way out,” Creighton said.

Eastern Michigan at Ohio

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Where: Peden Stadium, Athens, Ohio

Records: Both teams are 4-2 and 2-1 in the Mid-American Conference.

TV / Radio: ESPN3, WEMU 89.1 FM

Line: Ohio by 10

Notables: Brogan Roback will start his second straight game for the Eagles. Junior Todd Porter (shoulder) is close to returning, but is not expected to be back this week. EMU, which is allowing an average of 406.7 yards per game is facing an Ohio team that gained 386 yards last week against Bowling Green. On average, the Bobcats gain 426.3.