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When Nebraska needed a replacement for the injured Chris Jones to attend Big Ten Media Days, coach Mike Riley didn't take long to make his pick.

Aaron Williams was the guy, and he didn't disappoint.

Whether it was sharing the story of getting the OK from his mother and sister on his new suit before wearing it in Chicago, or sharing his thoughts on a strong bond with the late Bob Elliott, Williams showed off his upbeat personality and ability to adapt.

Both traits figure to help him this fall.

The junior safety's role, already a large one as the Blackshirts learn a new defensive scheme, has taken on a more vital feel as fall camp nears and the Huskers work to build a defensive backfield that is thinned by the injuries to Jones and JoJo Domann.

"I have appreciated Aaron Williams from the beginning," Riley said. "He is really a smart, intelligent, aware football player. He is fearless. He is a really good person. He's a great teammate.

"That's why, as a younger player, he's here (in Chicago). He's a guy that everybody in Nebraska would want me to put front and center in front of the nation."

Williams figures to play a central role in Nebraska's new-look defense, coming off a sophomore season in which he had 62 tackles, 30 solo stops and three interceptions.

Along with junior Antonio Reed and senior Kieron Williams, the younger Williams gives Nebraska a strength at the back end of its defense, even with a lack of experienced corners.

"I think we're underrated because there's a lot of question marks, a lot of new faces this year, but I feel like we use that as motivation," Aaron Williams said in Chicago. "I know we have a set goal of, we want to go out there and accomplish a Big Ten championship, so we use that as our motivation. The sky's the limit and we're only stopping each other."

With senior Joshua Kalu also working at safety in the spring after spending his first three seasons at corner, Nebraska has a pair of versatile defenders at its disposal as it shifts pieces to build a defensive backfield.

Williams said not only has Kalu been a quick study at safety, his experience makes him a dependable leader.

"If you're doing something wrong, Kalu's going to pull you to the side and say 'Hey, fix this and that.' He's not going to make a scene about it, he's going to tell you personally," Williams said. "You're going to respect him because of his resume and also how he carries himself."

And, Williams said, like everyone else, Kalu will do what is needed to make Nebraska's defense work.

"If it helps make the team better, that's what we're going to go with. And knowing him, he's going to do his job to the best of his ability no matter where he lines up," Williams said. "If they ask him to play D-line, he'll go play D-line. and he's going to try and be the best D-lineman he can be."

No matter how things play out this season, Williams will take with him the lessons learned in his short time with Elliott.

Elliott, early in his tenure at NU, called Williams "as smart a player as I've ever been around" in his 38-year coaching career.

"He's grasping things that I never dreamed that a safety could grasp this quickly. I really feel good about him. He's going to be a pleasure to coach," Elliott said. "He's not a rep guy. You can put something in in a meeting, and he can do it on the field. Not only do it, but position all the other guys to do it. He's a very good communicator. He thinks conceptually.

"If you just memorize assignments in football, you're going to make some mistakes and you're not going to be consistent. but Aaron has a way of conceptualizing the coverages and the assignments. He puts things with each other in packages in his mind."

Elliott, 64, died July 8 of complications from cancer. He had been a safeties coach at Nebraska for only six months, but he left an indelible impression on Williams, who "looked at him as more than a coach."

Riley shared a story of walking through the Nebraska dining hall and seeing the Elliott eating lunch with Williams.

"That was a fun picture for me. I loved that. And I hope — and I know he did — Aaron gathered as much from Bob as he could in that time. And I know that hit Aaron hard."

Williams patiently and thoughtfully answered questions about Elliott throughout his hour at the podium in Chicago as various media members came and went. The bond the two shared was clear.

"He was always there to help. He wanted to be involved. He was a person who taught me a lot about the game of football that I never knew," Williams said. "And I'll keep doing what he told me to do, because when a person like that tells you to do some stuff, you're going to keep doing it."


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