When Lane Kiffin received the fax from Leonard Williams on Signing Day, the Trojans thought they were getting a big, physical defensive end in the SEC mold. Though despite Devon Kennard going down in the preseason with a season-ending pectoral injury, the Kiffins and Ed Orgeron decided to switch it up with Williams and move him inside to defensive tackle. The result? A season that earned him the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Award.
His season was a bit rocky with penalties, as Williams was ejected in an October tilt with Colorado after punching a player who allegedly spit in Williams’s face. Nonetheless, Williams had stellar season during play, leading Pac-12 freshmen in sacks and tackles for loss, and was second only to TCU’s Devonte Fields for the national lead in those categories by a freshman.
Williams is the third Trojan to win the award, with linebacker Dion Bailey grabbing the honor last year as a redshirt freshman and Taylor Mays winning it in 2006. Overall, he is the seventh freshman at USC to be honored, joining wide receivers Marqise Lee, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Kareem Kelly.
Competing against Williams for the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Award was Washington’s Shaq Thompson, who proved his five-star recruit status with three interceptions and 40 total tackles.