Na’Vante Williams says it’s not a lie. Not even the tiniest of fibs.
Even though the expression on his face says catching a touchdown pass is his greatest thrill, the Decatur High senior swears it’s not.
Sacking a quarterback is what puts the biggest smile on Williams’ face.
“Don’t get me wrong, catching that touchdown felt great,” Williams said of an 8-yard reception last week against Athens. “But playing defense, that’s where it’s at. The big hits. The turnovers. It’s exciting. There’s nothing like it.”
Don’t worry. Williams isn’t being deprived of good times. He’s one of three Decatur seniors who have been asked to play on both sides of the football.
And Williams has loved every second of it.
“As a football player, you want to be on the field for every snap,” he said. “You never want to come off the field. Yeah, there can be fatigue, but in the heat of the moment you don’t even notice that.”
Playing both ways isn’t new to Williams. Changing jersey numbers and positions has been a steady trend throughout his career.
But his counterparts? Rex Jarman and Josh Matthews are playing more snaps this season than ever.
The names Jarman and Matthews aren’t new to anyone who follows Decatur football. The big, bruising running backs have been piling up yards for the Red Raiders for years.
Now they’re preventing opposing running backs from doing the same from their new inside linebacker positions.
“Those three guys are some of the most unselfish guys we have,” Decatur coach Jere Adcock said. “All of them, they’re great kids who always put the team first. And having them play on both sides of the ball is a tremendous asset for our team. They’re big, physical players, but more importantly, they put in time after hours by watching film and studying the game. There’s no doubt that they make our defense better.”
Playing defense isn’t completely new to Jarman. The 5-foot-10 and 230-pound senior played sparingly at linebacker last season — mostly in Decatur’s final game. That’s not the case with Matthews, a 5-10 and 220-pound senior. He primarily has been a running back throughout his career.
Not that you can tell based on their performance. Williams said the running back tandem has stepped into their new roles on Decatur’s defense like a couple of veteran linebackers.
“Both of these guys are so big and strong,” Williams said. “Just look at them. They’re beasts. Just imagine taking them on out on the field. They definitely make us better.”
Pounding out tough yards with physical running styles is still the primary roles of Jarman and Matthews. Decatur’s offense is built around a power-running game, and they are the engines that make it go.
But delivering hits instead of taking them has been a nice change of pace.
“I like it,” Matthews said. “And honestly, I think I like playing defense better. It’s different for me. I’ve always been a running back. But when you step up and make that tackle, it’s a great feeling.
“But the best part is being on the field all the time. You never want to come off. You always want to be out there helping your team.”
“Running the ball has always been my thing,” he said. “But when they told me I was going to play more on defense, I was like, ‘Oh yeah.’ I couldn’t wait to get out there and hit somebody. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Placing Matthews and Jarman into the linebacker rotation worked well for Decatur in last week’s season opener. The Red Raiders held Athens to 70 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers in a 21-13 win.
But Jarman said Decatur will have to play even better this week against River City rival Austin (1-0). The Class 6A No. 10 Black Bears defeated then fourth-ranked Spain Park 37-24 last Friday.
“The main thing is that we get better every week and just keep executing our game plan,” Jarman said. “This is an intense game. It always is, so we’ll have to bring our best because we know they’re going to do the same.”
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