By Avery Wilks, GamecockCentral.com
Junior safety Brison Williams has been playing football for a while now, and he isn't ready to change his approach to the game over one rule. Tuesday's practice marked two and a half weeks since his second-quarter hit on UCF receiver Jeff Godfrey prevented a 24-yard pass completion, attracted multiple yellow flags from the referees and nearly got him kicked out of the game.
Williams remembers how normal the hit felt. Godfrey had jumped to retrieve a high pass from Blake Bortles, and Williams acted on instinct, driving his shoulder into the receiver's upper body and jarring the ball out of his hands. Williams was happy. His teammates were happy. The referees were not.
Just seconds after Williams got to up to celebrate with his fellow defensive backs, the flags starting flying in.
"I just remember it being a regular hit, and they flagged me and tried to throw me out of the game," said Williams, a native of Warner Robins, Ga.
Williams said his initial thought was that the referees must have been joking. His teammate and friend Victor Hampton sank to his knees in front of one official. Marcquis Roberts, Kaiwan Lewis and Kadetrix Marcus pleaded with other officials in vain. And Williams stormed away in disbelief.
Williams was momentarily ejected for the hit in accordance with college football's new targeting rule, which was passed by the NCAA's Football Rules Committee in February and approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel in March. The rule mandates that players flagged for targeting face the same penalty as if they had been caught fighting: Players flagged in the first half are ejected for the remainder of the game, and second-half violators are ejected for the game and suspended for the first half of the next game.
Until his ejection was overturned minutes later after a video replay, Williams appeared to become one of the first martyrs of the targeting rule. The rule, which aims to cut down on the number of above-the-shoulder hits on defenseless players, forces defenders to change everything from how they hit and tackle to the angles they take, Williams said.
"It's just changing the game a little bit. Well, a lot really, not just a little bit," Williams said.
And it's not just players that are affected. Defensive backs coach Grady Brown said his coaching methods in practice have changed this season because of the rule. Brown said he has to deal out a larger allotment of practice reps to younger players in case they are suddenly called into a game after an ejection.
"With the rules and everything, you could be a big hit away from having a guy out of the game, so you've got to try to get all the reps in," Brown said.
Williams said some technical parts of his game may change because of the way the rules are enforced, but the former four-star prospect and Georgia 5A Player of the Year said his smash-mouth approach to football won't change.
"Now we just got to try to hit low," Williams said. "If they tear their ACL, it's not on us now. I've just got to do what I've been doing since I was little. If they flag us, they flag us."
Brown expressed a similar sentiment. He hasn't told his players to go about their jobs any differently since the UCF game and Williams' near-ejection.
"I try not to over-coach it," Brown said. "I don't want guys thinking too much out there, I just want them to react. I just try to get as many players ready as possible, so if you lose a guy, you just plug the next guy in."
Williams has seen time at both safety positions this season, with his location on the field depending on both the defensive scheme and what the opposing offense is trying to do. Williams says he isn't trying to fill the enforcer role former Gamecock safety D.J. Swearinger relished, and that he doesn't try to be Swearinger himself either.
"I just want to be myself," Williams said. "I've just got to do what I've been doing."