CHAMPAIGN — Isaiah Williams arrived at Illinois heralded as the future at the quarterback position for the Illini.
But if Williams sees the field in 2021, it'll be at wide receiver.
Illinois coach Bret Bielema announced Tuesday afternoon the redshirt freshman from St. Louis is making the position switch after competing at quarterback each of the last two seasons.
"It was something he and I discussed," Bielema said. "When he got done with the (spring) game, he wanted to take a couple days to look at it. He was very impressive in those three practices after the spring game, and he decided to make that move."
Illinois wrapped up spring practices last month, with Williams locked in as the backup quarterback. Brandon Peters, the starter each of the last two seasons, asserted himself again as the likely favorite to start under center when Illinois opens the Bielema era on Aug. 28 versus Nebraska with a strong showing in spring ball.
Since the spring game on April 19, Illinois landed a transfer quarterback in Art Sitkowski from Rutgers. Coran Taylor and Matt Robinson are other quarterbacks on the Illini roster who have started a game at Illinois during their careers.
Williams started four games at quarterback last season, finishing with 393 passing yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He only completed 26 of 63 passes, though, but was a threat in the run game.
His most memorable performance at quarterback happened during the Illini's 23-20 win at Rutgers last November, with Sitkowski on the opposite sideline with the Scarlet Knights. Williams rushed for 192 yards, a single-game record by an Illinois quarterback, and wound up with 389 rushing yards on 63 carries and one touchdown for the season.
But now, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Williams will now try to make a difference on the field at another position. He's not unfamiliar at wide receiver, having played the position once before during the 2019 Redbox Bowl, in which Williams caught three passes for nine yards during the Illini's 35-20 loss to California.
"The things I think Isaiah brings, regardless of what position he’s playing, is he’s a leader great magnetic energy," Bielema said. "Does it with a lot of intensity and attitude. I can’t stress the value of what he brings as a person. He has extremely high football IQ, and at wide receiver, the advantage he brings there is he’s literally been playing quarterback for a large portion of his career."
Bielema characterized Williams' position change as a mutual decision, adding that "I wouldn't say it was me coming to him or him coming to me."
"I could just see where his mind was," Bielema said. "I just laid out what was in front of him, and he was eventually the one who said, 'Coach, I want to do this.'"