There were many questions surrounding UB football heading into the 2021 season.
While first-year UB head coach Maurice Linguist consumed the majority of the headlines, one of the biggest reasons for concern came from the wide receiver room, which lost its top two targets from the previous season.
After Antonio Nunn signed with — and was later dropped from — the Atlanta Falcons and Trevor Wilson followed Lance Leipold to the University of Kansas, the Bulls needed to find a big-time playmaker on the outside.
Enter Eastern Michigan transfer Quian Williams.
In just his first season with the Bulls, Williams is leading the team in receiving yards (212) and receptions (15). Despite starring in UB’s run-heavy offense, the senior wideout has proved to be a reliable playmaker for the Bulls.
After catching five passes for 96 yards in his UB debut against Wagner, Williams impressed on a bigger stage against Nebraska. A rare positive in a 28-3 loss to the Cornhuskers, he rose to the occasion with eight catches and 93 yards in front of 85,000 fans at a jam-packed Memorial Stadium.
Williams followed that up against 16th-ranked Coastal Carolina this Saturday, when he scored on a crucial two-point conversion to bring UB within three points of the Chanticleers in the fourth quarter.
He wants the ball in the big moments, and while he’s played only three games as a Bull, he’s giving UB every reason to trust him when it matters most.
“I’ve always just prepared myself mentally to be in those situations,” Williams said. “I’ve always visualized how things could go. I’ve just been blessed to be in this position on the team. My role on the team is a blessing and it came from faith in God and hard work. I feel like those things just help me be ready for it when those times come.”
Linguist cited Williams’ week-to-week preparation as a key to his success on the big stage. While some players tend to be overly cocky heading into a big game, Williams approaches each opportunity with a humble confidence rooted in his disciplined practice tendencies.
“The game is not too big for him,” Linguist said. “Situations are not too big for him, so he plays with a lot of poise, he plays with a lot of confidence, and he earns the right to be confident throughout the week because of how he prepares.”
A diligent learner, Williams can be found in team meeting rooms with a notebook in hand, taking notes of practically anything that’s said.
Wide receivers coach Dallas Baker, who played two seasons in the NFL and won Super Bowl XLIII as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, says Williams’ hunger for knowledge is second to none.
When he first got to the NFL, Baker heard stories about Tom Brady’s legendary note-taking habits. Baker says Brady would take notes all the time, and he sees the same learning tendencies in Williams.
“I always joke with Q, ‘No matter what, you’re always writing it down,’” Baker said. “I could have said this probably 30 minutes ago and you’re writing it down again. I would say that’s a great attribute to have, always write things down, always study. With Q, he’s not a guy that just relies on talent, and that’s why he always takes notes. That definitely will make you a better football player. When you’re an athletic guy, a competitive guy who always takes notes, that’s an extra edge.”
Williams has also developed a rapport with senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease over the past couple of months.
The two saw eye-to-eye in UB’s first game against Wagner and never looked back. Vantrease’s trust with Williams only grew against Nebraska, where the two connected on multiple big third-down conversions to keep drives alive.
Both players have embraced the challenge of learning about each other on and off the field. While they’ve only known each other since the summer, the duo feel like it’s been years.
“Just spending time with each other on and off the field, picking each other’s brains,” Williams said. “Seeing what spots he wants me in and him asking me how I like running certain routes and stuff like that and what I’m seeing on the field. Just spending time together was ultimately the way we built this relationship.”
From grabbing a bite to eat to putting in extra time on the field during the summer, Williams and Vantrease’s trust has blossomed into a friendship — and that’s only helping them come gameday.
“It’s a combination of all of that, on the field, off the field, in practice, in the film room,” Vantrease said. “Just talking, hanging out, getting to know each other. You have to be able to trust him and you’re not going to trust him if you’re not friends with him.”
Williams’ mentality as a student of the game paired with his strong play has thrust him into a leadership role for the Bulls.
Even though it’s his first season in the Queen City, Williams is an upperclassman who leads by example in his preparation and desire to learn.
“I’m welcoming everything that comes with the role. I’m ready for it,” Williams said. “The whole staff, they’ve groomed everyone the right way, each day, from a leadership standpoint. Just remembering everything they’ve taught me in my short time being here has helped me develop into a leader.”
Williams’ curiosity and constant quest to improve are special — especially from a first-year transfer. Instead of easing his way into UB’s program, he’s seizing his moment and taking in as much as he can.
“He’s very intentional and focused about all the details,” Linguist said. “I don’t know if there’s a day gone by where he’s not asking, ‘How do I improve and get better?’ And for a new transfer to come into our culture and program and do that, it just speaks volumes.”
As if his pure leadership skills aren’t enough, Williams also has prior experience in the Mid-American Conference to lean on.
The Oklahoma City native caught 76 passes for 983 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with Eastern Michigan before transferring to UB.
Williams’ prior experience in the MAC has proven to be a valuable asset in his transition to another program within the conference and has helped him gain the “respect” of his teammates.
“For him to be able to have that experience in the MAC, it’s huge,” Vantrease said. “And it’s a big respect thing too because young guys gotta respect that. He knows what he’s talking about because he’s done it before.”
Described by his coaches as a “yes sir, no sir” type of guy, Williams’ consistency in not only his on-the-field approach but also the way he handles himself off it make him a reliable player and leader.
Baker says he was blown away by the maturity and poise Williams displayed when UB was recruiting him. And it wasn’t all for show; Williams has carried himself the same way since arriving in Buffalo, his teammates and coaches say.
“He likes to have a good time,” Baker said. “He isn’t someone who’s stuck up, which is great for your program. He’s a caring person. You always want to put others before yourself. You always want to put a smile on someone’s face, and that’s what he does.”
Off the field, Williams is inspired by his own set of motivations.
After graduating from Eastern Michigan with a communication degree in the spring, Williams’ decorative robe displayed the message “Black Grads Matter.”
To him, he’s playing for something much bigger than himself.
He wants to symbolize hope to children across the country, and he’s using his platform to represent where hard work and doing the right thing can take somebody — both on the field and in the classroom.
“It just shows that people that look like me can do the things they see others doing every day,” Williams said. “I just wanted to be that example, that leader in my community where I come from to show them — from my own family and just other kids that might look up to me or come from where I come from — and showing them that they can do it too.”
As Williams continues to grow into the role as a No. 1 target and a leader in his first season with the Bulls, the people around him expect big things from him.
“He’s winning one-on-ones, he plays tough, he practices tough and he’s living the culture every day,” Linguist said. “Very proud of him and how he’s progressing so far. We’ve got to continue to improve him, change his best and change our best with how we teach and coach him, but he’s got a bright future ahead of himself.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor at The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.