Jontez Williams brings “a little something-something” to Iowa State DB corps

Sep 9, 2023; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Jontez Williams (31) breaks up the pass for Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Diante Vines (0) during the fourth quarter at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — There’s confidence and there’s cockiness. An accomplished cornerback must straddle the fine line between those sideline-to-sideline states of being — and Iowa State’s Jontez Williams has carved out his niche in that regard.

 “It’s like a 30,” the redshirt sophomore most likely to replace soon-to-be high NFL Draft pick T.J. Tampa at the position said when asked to rate his level of swagger on a scale of one to ten. “It is like a 30. I feel like I’ve got a little swag on me, just a little something-something, you know what I’m saying?”

 Williams, a 5-11, 200-pound native of Starke, Fla., doesn’t possess Tampa’s expansive wingspan, but he clearly has the mental makeup to shine at cornerback opposite returning starter, Myles Purchase. He made two starts last season and totaled six tackles and three pass breakups, so he’s well beyond “fake it before you make it” territory when it comes to thriving in the defensive backfield.

 “It’s that confidence factor,” the former three-star recruit said. “You’ve gotta have that confidence in yourself to be on that island and know that you’re good on that island even if you don’t have any help. I feel like if you you have that confidence and that swagger about yourself, you can definitely be a great corner.”

 The Cyclones will need Williams to be just that as they seek to forge a winning season for the seventh time in the past eight years. And he’ll have help on that “island” in senior special teams star Darien Porter, among others, for ISU, which tied for second in the Big 12 in interceptions last season with 16.

 “I think (Porter’s) ceiling is unlimited,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said earlier this spring. “I think he’s a great young man. I think for this guys, and even for T.J. a couple years ago, the confidence to come play defense is different.”

 Porter stands 6-4, so his length and track speed will complement Williams’ and Purchase’s all-around abilities at cornerback. It’s a deep room, as well, so competition is helping to breed the confidence Williams showcases on a down-by-down basis.

 “I think everybody’s confident in who they are,” the Cyclones’ cornerbacks coach, Hank Poteat, said. “I don’t think they’re trying to be T.J. If I’m a competitor, I may feel like I’m just as good as T.J., so I don’t think there’s been a drop back.”

 That’s important for an ISU defense that has ranked top-three in the Big 12 in points allowed for seven consecutive seasons. Nine starters on that side of the ball return for the Cyclones, who will open the season on Aug. 31 against North Dakota at Jack Trice Stadium.

 “Who can do it every day, every practice?” Heacock said. “Not just (occasionally), but all day long, all spring long, all summer long, all fall camp long, all season long — I think that’s where our team needs to grow on our side of the ball, specifically.”

 Williams grew into what could be a starring role by making mistakes. He earned the swagger he plays with now because of absorbing some hard lessons along the way.

 “Probably my first year after fall camp, I had some tough days there,” he said. “I was thinking about a lot of plays that happened before and not worrying about the next play, so I feel feel like during that time I was able to learn from my mistakes and just let that play go and go onto the next one.”

 Therein lis the rub when it comes to being on an “island.” Rescue is far from your immediate shores. Miscues are magnified and respect — just like confidence — must be earned.

 “I think if you dwell on a play for too long, you’ll start to get in our head and start thinking about other things,” Williams said. “At DB, you can’t really think. You’ve gotta just react. You’ve gotta be able to process things and react quicker than others, so I feel like letting those plays go by the wayside, I feel it’ll be better for you, for sure.”