Sports

Better than winning the Heisman?

He'll never be a Heisman Trophy finalist, but that doesn't matter one bit to Northwestern's Brandon Williams.

Rather, the longtime Wildcats holder has his eye on an even more coveted award, one so prestigious that it exists only in his imagination. For now.

"I don't even need to win the thing," he said. "I just want to be on a watch list."

Williams announced his "candidacy" for the Holder of the Year, an award that doesn't exist, via the Ryan Field scoreboard during the season opener.

Of course, Williams and his teammates are focused on winning the Big Ten. The Wildcats kick off their conference schedule with a prime-time matchup against Ohio State on Saturday.

The Holder of the Year idea was born when Williams was joking around with the team's media relations representatives about ways he could get his name in the headlines.

"One day I asked them, 'What do you think about a Holder of the Year award?' There's no such thing, there's no award for that, there's awards for everything else," Williams said, laughing. "They're like, 'C'mon, you've gotta be kidding me.' And I was like, 'Hey, it could happen.' "

Daydreaming aside, the redshirt senior, who is also the Wildcats' punter, actually has the numbers to back it up were such an award given out.

This year, under Williams' hold, kicker Jeff Budzien is 6-of-8 on field goals and 21-for-21 on extra points. In three years together, the pair has converted all their extra-point attempts. Williams also has gone 38 consecutive field goal attempts without a botched hold.

"If you watch what goes wrong [on a missed kick], it's [usually] either blocked or an errant snap or hold, so to have 122 straight as well as 38 field goals consecutively without an error is pretty impressive and a credit to [Williams and long snapper Pat Hickey]," Budzien said. "The extra-point process, a lot of people will talk about me regarding that, but that's completely not my doing. That's all consistency with them."

It's success derived from a fear of being unable to get on the field. Williams, who was a kicker in high school in Nappanee, Ind., took up holding his freshman year at Northwestern because he simply wanted to play.

"My redshirt freshman year, I was like, 'Huh, I don't know if I'm gonna punt next year so I'm gonna try and get on the field,' " he said. " 'Maybe I can hold.' It actually turned out to be a lot of fun."

It may sound simple, but Williams' ability to catch a football and put it down just so is the stuff of legend among his teammates. Hickey said Williams has gotten so good at holding that he could do it one-handed.

"We've talked about it," Williams said.

"If we're up big on some team late in the game," Hickey interjected.

"But we would never do it," Williams added. "I would never try that."

Part of that is out of fear of their coach, Pat Fitzgerald.

"If it went well, he'd still probably yell at us," Williams said.

"Do you think he'd notice?" Hickey wondered aloud. "We'd have to do it when we're on the south end zone so he couldn't see the front."

"Then it'd probably be all right," he said. "When he watched the film, he'd probably ask about it; he wouldn't be very happy."

While there are other, more well-known holders out there, including Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, Hickey and Budzien say Williams deserves the Holder of the Year award because of his ability to make their jobs easier.

"Brandon's done a great job and made me look good a couple of times, saving my butt," Hickey said. "Finesse at the holder position, all the consistency that he's had."

"Brandon is pretty athletic," Budzien added. "He can make something happen if it's bad. And he created [the award], so I don't think someone else deserves to get it if Brandon created it and is worthy of it."

Williams himself stated his case based on the fact that he is purely a holder.

"Obviously here, we don't run that many fakes," he said. "I like to think it's not a reflection on me, but possibly it is. I'm definitely not A.J. McCarron or a wide receiver."

But even if the powers that be decide to offer a Holder of the Year honor and deem Williams unworthy, he has one request for the awards committee that, again, doesn't exist.

"Honestly, the Holder of the Year award, I would be totally fine if I didn't win it, I just want to present it," he said.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor. @mattlindner

 

BATTLE OF UNBEATENS

No. 16 Northwestern (4-0) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (5-0)

7 p.m. Saturday, ABC

 

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