BAKER – It was fitting that Kenny Williams called it.
Defensive coordinator Andy Valmus can vouch for it. So, too, can Matt Brunson.
Before his senior year, before he replaced Zach Brown at middle linebacker and became “the quarterback of the defense,” Williams knew his destiny.
“I told my defensive coordinator that I was going to get defensive player of the year,” Williams said. “I was confident. I’ve been working hard for it.”
The hard work paid off. Williams, the face of a defense that allowed just 13 points a game and posted three shutouts, is the Daily News Small Schools Defensive Player of the Year.
“It feels amazing,” said Williams, standing 5-foot-10, 170 pounds. “It just validates all the hard work I put in.”
The hard work showed up on the stat sheet.
Williams had 91 tackles – 39 solo and five for a loss. He had six quarterback hurries, five fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a pass deflection.
Yet one play stood out from the 13-1, state runner-up campaign. One play set the tone for the entire season.
“Against Bonifay in the first game of the season, there was this pass in the flat to this tiny receiver. There was a big pile up and he emerged and I came in and lowered my shoulder for the hit. I knocked him out and he fumbled.
“Once I went through the highlights and saw it, I started to get motivated more and more for the season.”
But Williams’ impact extended far beyond the stat sheet.
After all, Brunson gave him complete autonomy to recognize the package, diagnose the play call and alter Baker’s base defense based on what he saw at the line.
“He gets us lined up, identifies the formation, communicates to his teammates and the sideline the call and … that’s how we operate,” Brunson said. “He understands the right play call and he competes at an effort level that's unsurpassed.
"He’s the quarterback of the defense. We were only as good as his communication.”
Williams, then at outside linebacker, watched Brown serve that role the previous two years. All the while he was soaking in every facet.
“He’s such a student of the game,” Brunson said. “He picks up on everything."
Yet Baker was able to run more sophisticated sets this year, Brunson said. And the team’s chemistry was never better.
“It just came natural to me,” Williams said. “I can see the field well. Always have been able to.”
Williams and his defense held seven opponents to a score or less, 11 teams to 21 points or less and limited Madison County to just 14 points in the first half of the state title game.
“We knew they weren’t much better than us,” Williams said. “We were pretty confident going in even though we expected a lot from (Travis Jay). We knew if we could stop him at the line, we could limit him. Unfortunately he got past the line a few times and made some big plays.”
The 48-6 loss, though, didn’t damper his swan song. After all, Baker was 39-2 in his three years as starter, made the Final Four every year and advanced to two state title games.
“It was amazing. The only thing missing was the state title,” said Williams. We had a lot of talent but this was the most well-rounded group we had. We had harder hitters than the past and we adapted.
“We made plays to put us in position to win the state title.”
And here Williams is, Player of the Year. Just as he called it.