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Cornerback Williams opens eyes early in OSU fall camp

CORVALLIS — In an alternate universe, Dwayne Williams is working out in Reno or Las Cruces. The 5-foot-9, 168-pound freshman is trying to prove that his athleticism and speed warranted a grander stage.

A month before signing day, Nevada and New Mexico State were Williams’ top suitors. That changed when Oregon State assistant Chris Brasfield made a surprise visit to the two-star cornerback’s Shoemaker High School in Killeen, Texas.

“My coach called me into the office and I see Coach Brasfield from Oregon State,” Williams recalled Monday, a week into his campaign to contribute his first year in Corvallis. “I was like, ‘OK, that’s nice.’ It was just randomly out of nowhere.”

Williams did his research before committing to the Beavers. He learned that OSU, a program known for mining gems out of Texas’ fertile fields, appreciates the interception. The Beavers tied for sixth nationally with 19 picks in 2013.

Early in fall camp, Williams and OSU are proving an ideal match. The diminutive defensive back recorded three interceptions in drills last week. During Friday’s team period, he snuck in front of wide receiver Rahmel Dockery to nab a Brent VanderVeen pass. Defenders erupted in cheers on the sideline as Williams showed off the football to a handful of veterans.

“We’ve definitely noticed him,” defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. “We recruited him No. 1 knowing he had speed, he had great football instincts. What’s great now is we’re seeing those things happen.”

Said cornerback Steven Nelson: “He’s phenomenal coming in as a freshman and making plays. He’s opened some eyes already.”

Williams is still wading through the defense’s complexities. His first days in practice, he hasn’t always understood the various schemes. So he leans on instincts, streaming toward the ball when all else fails.

Such improvisation, of course, is the foundation of a Pac-12 playmaker. Banker is eager to see how Williams performs when he knows his reads.

At this point, the former track standout seems a strong candidate to play this season. With Dashon Hunt sidelined with a tweaked hamstring, Williams has started building chemistry with the first and second strings. He could find a niche on special teams or in the Beavers’ nickel package.

“Is he ready for the Pac-12? We’ll see,” Banker said. “Through the course of the week, we’ll see some stuff out of him because he hasn’t played tired yet. He hasn’t been hurt yet. So we’ll see all of that stuff.”

Saturday’s scrimmage should serve as an evaluation period. Coaches will monitor Williams’ composure in the defense, whether he turns quickness and instincts into consistent production.

Last winter, Williams appeared destined for Nevada or New Mexico State. Today, he could become the rare freshman to log time in one of college football’s elite conferences. Williams, who tallied 10 interceptions his senior year at Shoemaker, hasn’t forgotten how it felt to wait for his first major offer.

“I have a chip on my shoulder,” Williams said. “I’m trying to prove that everybody that slept on me was wrong.”