Quincy Williams has been swimming with the sharks in the NFL for four seasons now. But what the sharks on opposing offenses may not have realized is that the Jets linebacker is fast and fearless -- in or out of the water -- and has used his youthful dedication to swimming to help the way he plays on the football field.
In addition to running track and playing football in high school, Williams, the older brother of Jets DE Quinnen Williams, made the Junior Olympics in the freestyle and freestyle medley.
"It got to a point I was doing both," Williams told team reporter Eric Allen and Bart Scott of swimming and football on the latest edition of "The Official Jets Podcast."
"But you had to lose so much weight swimming and I was losing muscle. So, then it's like all right, now I got to turn around and get beefier for football season. So, it kind of got to a point where my weight was going up and down, fluctuating. It got to the point where I got to pick. I got to choose now. And honestly, I went to my brother and asked which one I could have more fun with because I was the only swimmer, and it was two brothers playing football."
Williams ultimately chose football and was selected as the Birmingham Athletic Partnership Defensive Player of the Year as a senior before attending Murray State, but he could fly in the water just as well as he could cover sideline-to-sideline on the gridiron.
"Fifty freestyle, I was winning hands down," he said. "Olympic-sized pool, I'm winning."
Williams said he was quick to make the connection about how swimming fed into his play on the football field. (He also won the Alabama Class 5A high jump state title in 2013 with a leap of 6-2.; and competed in the long jump, the 100-meter dash and the 4×100 relay.)
"Wide Shoulders, long arms [80 7/8 inches]. During the offseason for endurance, it helped me out a lot," he said. "Lean muscle mass. On my heavy days as far as conditioning wise, my legs are kind of heavy, let me get into the pool and do some swimming. Working on my breathing underwater, and stuff like really controlling my breaths now, especially when it gets to third quarters and they just had a long drive. Let's go to two-minute, four-minute drive, control your breathing and stuff. That's how it really helped me out a lot. And then just the eating habits, really just like a lot more vegetables. In football you need a lot more protein, but still vegetables. So really just the endurance part and conditioning. I still do a little bit of it."
At 5-11, 230, Quincy Williams was pigeonholed as being too undersized to play linebacker in the NFL. But what he may lack in size, he makes in speed and tenacity. He was drafted by Jacksonville in the third round in 2019 (96 picks after his brother) and then plucked off the waiver wire by Jets GM Joe Douglas just as the 2021 regular season was about to start. He played in 16 games (13 starts) and finished second on the team in total tackles (103) to veteran middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. This season, the Jets added another veteran to the linebacking corps, Kwon Alexander. That enabled the Jets defense last week to at times play the trio at the same time as the defense held the Ravens' rushing attack to 63 total yards, the fewest since QB Lamar Jackson became the team's starter.
"We like villains, we want to be bad guys," he said of the linebackers. "I already took the part of The Joker because I'm always laughing, I'm always smiling, I'm always joking around and I'm also the youngest experience wise. Then we have C.J., who is our leader of the villains, so we're going to say he's like either Doom or Thanos. Then we got Kwon, who could take a few of the villains, but I'd probably go with Venom."
While Williams may be known for his jovial nature, he said that not a single player was pleased with the loss to Baltimore on opening day at MetLife Stadium. After the game, second-year running back Michael Carter said it might have felt like the Jets lost the Super Bowl, but that it's only one of 17 games. Then in his press conference on Wednesday morning, Coach Robert Saleh said that "this is not the Same Old Jets," adding "Once we prove we're capable, it's going to snowball into something huge."
Williams picked up where his coach left off.
"So me and my guys had a conversation," Williams said. "Fans, of course, from the outside looking in say 'the same Jets, the same Jets,' and I'm more like, hey, we got the pieces. Their mindset is like we lost the Super Bowl, but we look at it like we're more disappointed in ourselves because we know what we're capable of. We were disappointed in ourselves at first, but then we looked at the numbers and you know, we did a lot of good things. What can we capitalize on?"
After last Sunday's game, Williams and the rest of his teammates found out that CB D.J. Reed, who was signed in free agency, played the game minutes after receiving the news of his father's death. In his first game for the Green & White, Reed was able to channel his emotions into a strong performance, making an interception and forcing a fumble.
"You never really know what each person is going through," Williams said. "You just have your brother's back. We didn't even know anything was going on. [Reed's father, Dennis Sr., had a long battle with MS.] It just shows that all of us are family on this team."
The Williams brothers can certainly empathize with Reed -- their mother died in 2010 after a five-year fight with breast cancer.
"I'm really saying and telling y'all and a lot of fans, football is a lot of people's escape," he said. "So like with my mom, it's my escape. So when he came in [a day after the game], he said he didn't want to be anywhere else. So, I mean, life is 10 percent, what happens to you, the rest of the 90 percent is how you respond."