Williams makes tough catches routine for Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Maxx Williams was open on a corner route in the second quarter, and the pass from Mitch Leidner was high and wide as he approached the sideline.

Minnesota's nimble sophomore tight end fully extended his arms to catch it as his momentum took him hurtling out of bounds, a noble effort surely for naught.

But wait. The incompletion call on third-and-7 was reviewed.

The replays showed his left toe, as evidenced by the rubber pellets stirred up from the contact, dragging on the turf during the split-second between the ball hitting his hands and his right foot touching the white line. The ruling was reversed, and the Gophers kept going for a two-touchdown lead over rival Iowa on the first of three scores that afternoon by Williams.

''I've coached a lot of great players, but I've never seen anybody catch a football like that kid,'' coach Jerry Kill said.

Hardly a person in the stadium believed the pass was complete because the play happened so fast, but nobody on the Minnesota sideline was surprised.

''I make sure I get a good view of all of his catches, if I'm in or if I'm on the sideline,'' running back David Cobb said, smiling.

Williams has made a habit of those types of acrobatic grabs in practice, too.

''We have to hold our breath sometimes because he just doesn't know how to not go after it,'' offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. ''He doesn't know how to pull back, and so I think that just carries over into the ballgames.''

Playing for a team with one of the most imbalanced run-to-pass ratios (425 to 165) in the FBS, Williams hasn't had consistent opportunities to showcase these skills. Limegrover and Kill said several times earlier in the season they needed to find more ways to deliver him the ball.

''Sure, I look back and we should've thrown it to him about 20 times a game the way he's playing,'' Kill said.

Still, Williams leads the team with 22 receptions and 326 yards. His seven touchdowns are tied for most in the nation for tight ends. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds with plenty of athleticism, he's a difficult player to cover for most linebackers and safeties. Remarkably, he barely played tight end at all until his redshirt season in 2012.

Williams was primarily a quarterback in high school at Waconia, an exurb about 35 miles west of Minneapolis. He played every offensive skill position at least once during his career and was a first-team Associated Press all-state selection at linebacker as a senior. Iowa recruited him as a defensive end. He was even a standout punter. When Williams came to college, he weighed about 200 pounds.

''Maybe 205,'' Williams said.

The gregarious, energetic redhead is the son of Brian Williams, a former Gophers center who became a first-round NFL draft pick in 1989 by the New York Giants. His mother might have been the better athlete. Rochele Goetz, now Williams, was a star volleyball player for Minnesota as well.

So it's easy to see why Williams was so heavily recruited by Kill and his staff, but other than the Hawkeyes he wasn't overwhelmed by offers. That's because Williams felt so comfortable with the ''family atmosphere'' surrounding the Gophers that he committed during his junior year.

Williams was swarmed by reporters before practice on Tuesday, his profile continuing to rise toward legitimate pro prospect, but his quick-witted answers were as humble as could be.

- Did he have a greater appreciation of the sideline catch after watching the video? ''Yeah, it was more lucky than I thought.''

- Does he face more safeties or linebackers in coverage? ''No idea. I just go out there and run my routes and try to catch the ball. I think it's a mix.''

- Does he feel like he has the advantage in those matchups? ''I don't feel like I ever have an advantage. It's Big Ten football. Everyone's good.''

- Did he have any colleges recruiting him as a quarterback? ''No. I threw the ball like five times a game, maybe.''

- Did he see the pass-catching tight end role as a ticket to the NFL? ''No, coming out of high school, I was just more worried about trying to get a scholarship, trying to get on a team somewhere. If it falls in my role, where I can go out there and run more routes for our team, I'll do it. I mean, I don't mind sitting in there and blocking. It's just kind of fun to go out there and move around every now and then.''

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