LINCOLN — Keith Williams is perpetually on the move, and that sometimes can mean the Nebraska assistant might blast a player with a critique or comment and almost immediately be off to the next thing.
Williams is working with 16 receivers this spring. He can be spread a little thin as the Huskers go from practice rep to practice rep.
And that’s where Keyan Williams occasionally can lend a hand.
Keyan is a junior who becomes eligible in the fall and hopes to contribute at the position. As the son of Keith, he also speaks his language and has a way of interpreting to his teammates what his father is saying — if necessary.
“He says something, and then there’s another play and he’s talking over there, and I can come up to a player and maybe say a little thing,” Keyan said.
“Sometimes my dad will say something — he might come over there yelling at you, and this and that — but it’s not how he’s saying it, it’s what he’s saying because he’s such an enthusiastic guy. So it’s hard to see what he’s saying, instead of just hearing him yell at you.”
It came into play Thursday, when Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was having a hard time. The freshman is just eight practices into his Husker career. He was getting an earful.
“I told him, ‘You just got to get used to it,’ ” Keyan said. “I just try to help him out.”
Keith will take the assistance. He joked that Keyan’s reimbursement comes in the form of his car and cell phone.
“During the course of practice, I can’t spend 10, 15 minutes with Keyshawn on a certain play,” the elder Williams said. “So you coach him up, you get to the next play, and while he’s back there waiting on his next turn, Keyan can say — just like anybody can, but Keyan for sure — can give him a little more detailed explanation sometimes, for that moment.”
Keyan didn’t come to Nebraska to assist and translate for his father, of course. He came for the shot that he currently is getting, with important spots open in the receiver rotation after the loss of Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly.
Keyan sat last season as a Fresno State transfer, and said he immensely valued what he took from watching Westerkamp go about his business for 12 months.
But aside from reuniting with his dad, his decision to become a Husker also had to do with knowing the Huskers would need help at receiver in 2017.
“It played a big part,” Keyan said. “But I didn’t come thinking that I was just going to jump right into a starting spot. I’ve got to keep working, like everybody else.”
Keyan was a three-star prospect out of New Orleans in high school, where Keith was a Tulane assistant from 2012 to ’14. He was heavy with West Coast offers before picking Fresno State, which had been his father’s previous coaching stop.
Keyan redshirted his first season before playing in five games and catching seven passes for the Bulldogs in 2015. That was also Keith’s first year at Nebraska, and Keyan was almost immediately on his way to NU that winter.
“When I got here, I realized that this place was better (for him) than where he was at,” Keith said. “The whole situation, from top to bottom.
“It’s good for my wife, obviously. But the football, the atmosphere here, the opportunity to develop as a young man … it’s better here, I felt. He came to visit a few times, and kind of got that same feel, and so it was kind of easy.”
Keyan already knew what it was like to be coached by his father, doing receiver work with him all the way back to when he was 6. Keith also had coached one of his Pop Warner teams when he was at San Jose City College.
“He knew what was gonna happen,” Keith said. “He knew how I was gonna coach. And he was around me as a coach, as I’ve coached other people, so he understood that part.”
They were apart most of last fall as Keyan worked with the scout-team offense, running the routes that opponents would try against the NU defense on Saturdays. Then he would patiently watch the games.
Now the 5-foot-10, 200-pound slot receiver is among those at his position looking for work, trying to perfect his routes and make plays and do all the right things. Keyan and redshirt freshman JD Spielman are competing at the position, with junior Stanley Morgan moving inside in some formations.
Keyan said he neither expects nor receives any special treatment from his position coach. But he definitely knows what his father wants and how he wants it done, and Keyan can use that for his own good and take it to others.
“I think it helps a lot because what he expects is what I expect now,” Keyan said. “He’s built that inside of me. If I mess up, and he comes over to tell me something, I already know what he’s going to say because I expect the same things as him.”
Keyan would have lived through a coaching change had he stayed at Fresno State, with the Bulldogs dipping from 3-9 in 2015 to 1-11 a year ago. Sitting another year was the cost of getting back with his dad and finding his current situation, but Keyan is glad to have two seasons left as a Husker.
“He presented an opportunity, and I jumped on it,” Keyan said. “I mean, he’s been my coach my whole life, so why wouldn’t you want to come play here, especially if you have the opportunity?”
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Two close to call. Quarterback Tanner Lee, right, appeared to be the front-runner for the starting job, connecting on 13 of 19 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, none better than a 30-yard touchdown pass to slot receiver JD Spielman. Close behind was Patrick O’Brien, who hit 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown and got the first snaps of the game with the Reds after winning a pregame coin flip in the locker room. Lee, O’Brien, Tristan Gebbia and Andrew Bunch combined for 702 yards passing, five touchdowns and one interception on the day.
2016: Nebraska walk-on Kyle Kasun’s interception of freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien on the final play produced the six points in the scrimmage’s scoring system that gave the defense a 46-41 victory over the offense. The Huskers racked up 343 yards on 64 carries — with the quarterbacks accounting for 162 of those rushing yards.
2015: Nebraska coach Mike Riley's spring game debut featured 408 punting yards by Sam Foltz, a bizarre safety by quarterback Tommy Armstrong and plenty of growing pains. NU quarterbacks completed 34 of 68 pass attempts, but it ended with a Gatorade bath for Riley. “I loved that,” he said.
2014: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini kicked off the spring game by carrying a cat onto the field during the tunnel walk — a nod to Faux Pelini, his Twitter parody account. Red defeated White 55-46, behind running back Imani Cross, who had 100 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
2013: Team Jack stole the show. Midway through the fourth quarter, Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez handed off to 7-year-old Jack Hoffman — a pediatric brain cancer patient who became close friends with former Husker Rex Burkhead — for a 69-yard touchdown. Both sidelines emptied to converge on Jack, who was raised to the shoulders of a couple of players. The play was named USA Today’s “Best Emotional Moment of 2013″ and awarded the ESPY for best sports moment.
2012: Fans take shelter in the concourse at Memorial Stadium to avoid the rain. Nebraska chose not to play the 2012 spring game when a severe thunderstorm blew through the area about 90 minutes before kickoff. It was the only spring game canceled in NU's 65-year history of the scrimmage.
2011: After missing a field goal attempt for White seconds before, Brett Maher kicked the game-winner for Red, giving them a 32-29 win. True freshman Jamal Turner racked up 228 all-purpose yards on just seven touches.
2010: The Taylor & Cody show. Taylor Martinez (pictured) passed for two scores and added nine carries for 60 yards. Cody Green’s highlight was a 72-yard touchdown throw to Will Henry that showed off his arm. He finished 7 of 15, passing for 155 yards for White, but Red won 21-16.
2009: Quarterback Zac Lee finished the game with 214 yards and three touchdowns and directed Red to a 31-17 win. He completed 15 of his 18 attempts, hardly looking rattled in front of 77,670 Husker fans who had been waiting all spring, maybe somewhat anxiously, for a chance to see the team’s new leader in action.
2008: I-back Marcus Mendoza eyes the end zone, but is pushed out of bounds by Mathew May of Imperial, Neb. Mendoza gained 33 yards on seven carries in Red's 24-14 win. The Bo Pelini era began with a school-record 80,149 fans in attendance.
2007: NU quarterbacks Sam Keller and Joe Ganz combined to complete 21 of 31 passes for 350 yards against No. 2 and No. 3 defensive players. Keller and Ganz led Red to a 38-0 win. “The coaching staff obviously has a handle on this (deciding on a No. 1),” Keller said after the game.
2006: Cody Glenn, No. 34, tries to run against White Team defenders, including Phillip Dillard, No. 38, and Kevin Luhrs, No. 89. Glenn finished with 98 yards on 16 carries. Red defeated White, 35-7, racking up 28 first downs and 219 rushing yards compared to two first downs and -10 for White.
2005: Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor is greeted by fans as he enters the field. Taylor, a transfer from Butler County (Kan.) Community College, finished 20 of 27 for 357 yards and three touchdowns, leading White to a 42-14 victory. Taylor’s 357 passing yards, and the 606 combined passing yards by White and Red, set spring game records.
2004: White's Brandon Rigoni and Tyler Fisher break up a pass intended for Ross Pilkington. New coach Bill Callahan unveiled a new pass-happy attack and set multiple spring game passing records, including attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. Husker quarterback Joe Dailey threw 49 times for Red, completing 29 for 241 yards and four touchdowns in 35-6 victory. “I had a good time,’’ Dailey said. “It was a great day. I think there’s more to come. This is the very tip of the iceberg.’’
2003: White's Joel Jackson catches a pass and is tackled by Mark Brungardt, left, and Stewart Bradley. Defense was the theme of the day in Red's 13-0 win, led by new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. NU defenders recorded six interceptions and three sacks, despite lining up in just one front. "I just chose to hold back," said Pelini. "It wasn't about beating the offense. All we wanted to do is have our guys lined up in a base defense and play hard."
2002: Red's Ira Cooper blocks Sam Koch's punt in the second quarter. The blocked punt set up Red's first touchdown in their 17-7 win. Junior-college transfer linebacker Demorrio Williams made a game-high 13 tackles for White, while Red's Dahrran Diedrick averaged 8.0 yards a carry en route to 96 yards and a touchdown.
2001: Thunder Collins had 55 yards on 13 carries for White, but defense ruled the day in Red's 16-7 win. The Red and White defenses combined for 16 sacks and limited the offenses to a combined 426 yards. "We feel like we made progress this spring," NU defensive coordinator Craig Bohl said.
2000: Red Team quarterback Joe Chrisman tries to escape from DeJuan Groce and the White Team defense. Eric Crouch and Jammal Lord sat out the spring game with injuries, leaving the Huskers with three inexperienced quarterbacks. White rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the last one coming on a 46-yard pass from converted split end Brett Lindstrom to Ryan Ommert with 2:24 remaining, tying Red 21-21. The no-decision marked the first time since 1950 that the game ended in a tie.