Temple linebacker Avery Williams still keeps in contact with last year's acknowledged team leader, Tyler Matakevich, now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just over the weekend, Williams said, he congratulated Matakevich on earning a spot on the Steelers' 53-man roster.
Matakevich set a Temple record with 493 tackles, and now Williams is being compared to the former all-American, especially in the leadership department.
When asked if he believes he has to be a Matakevich-type player, which means making virtually every tackle, Williams replied, "There is no such thing as [being a] Tyler Matakevich," he said. "Our thing is that if you have that [Temple] hat on your head, you have to produce, and it isn't about one guy making all the plays."
That may be true, but in the season-opening 28-13 loss to Army on Friday, Williams, a 5-foot-10, 224-pound redshirt senior, made one big play after another. He ended with a Matakevich-like line: 12 tackles (1.5 for loss) and half a sack.
"Avery Williams probably played the best game, maybe the most passionate game, the most energetic game," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "Maybe not the production Tyler has had, but it was one of the best games I have ever seen a defender play here, and all that gets lost in that we lost."
Rhule said the team usually watches the tape in separate groups, with offense in one room and defense in another. This time he had the entire team watch it together.
"Even the offensive coaches were like, 'I couldn't believe how Avery played,' " Rhule said "His energy and passion jumped off the screen."
Rhule, who has been searching for team leaders, has no concerns in that department when it comes to Williams.
"Now when Avery says something, people have to listen," Rhule said. "We have to have a bunch of leaders and Avery has earned the right to say something."
Throughout spring practice and during preseason camp, Williams has shown leadership, but he hasn't wanted to force himself. Actually, it comes quite naturally. He embraces being looked on as a leader, not for his talking skills but for his playmaking.
"If they are looking at me to make the plays, I love it," he said. "I never shy away from being a great leader, I am just going to lead by example."
If he needs to get vocal, that's not a problem, either.
"If they need any word of encouragement, I am there for them."
This week, those words were definitely needed for a team that was reeling after the upset loss.
While he will continue to be compared to Matakevich on and off the field, it must be noted that the two play different positions. Matakevich was the weakside linebacker, while Williams plays on the strong side.
Williams also insists that there are several leaders on the team. In that first game, however, he clearly set the tone and none stood out more than he did.