AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — D'haquille "Duke" Williams felt the love from Auburn fans after his first big catch.
The chants of "Duke" cascaded from the stands for the junior college transfer who turned in a sensational debut with the sixth-ranked Tigers in Saturday's 45-21 win over Arkansas and got louder as the game went on.
"It just made me feel like they love me," Williams said. "I never thought I'd have a chant like that. When they chanted that, I caught the chills. My heart just started beating faster. I'm just like, there's no way 90,000 just chanted my name. I ran to the sidelines and just had to take a seat, put a towel on my head and start thinking, 'It's really here. Everything I worked for.'"
The nation's top-ranked junior college prospect lived up to his billing, and then some, in his first game. He was targeted nine times, and that resulted in nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. It was the most yards by an Auburn receiver since Darvin Adams gained 217 in the 2010 Southeastern Conference championship game.
"This would have to be the best feeling of my life," Williams said. "When I was at the Iron Bowl last year, I was just like, 'I can't wait 'til January.' And when January got here, I practiced during the spring and summer. When I walked in front of that crowd, I just got the jitters."
The performance also gave an indication that the Tigers can have a more potent passing game this season, with Williams pairing up with fellow receivers Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis.
Williams did most of his damage across the middle, and eight of the receptions came from Jeremy Johnson, who played the first half with starting quarterback Nick Marshall suspended.
"Coach wanted to put me in the slot to create mismatches with the safety or linebacker," he said. "That's going to be hard on them."
Auburn relied more on the running game in the second half, limiting Williams' opportunities.
The 6-foot-2, 223-pounder flashed some speed on a 62-yard catch that Alan Turner's shoe-string tackle saved from a touchdown and showed his strength with an 18-yard touchdown where he drove his legs backward before spinning across the goal line while cornerback Carroll Washington tried to pull him down.
Most importantly Williams displayed sure hands for a team that struggled with drops both last season and at times in the opener. He said he dropped only one pass during preseason camp, and still seemed chagrined that he couldn't hang onto the ball on a slant route.
"He attacks the ball," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "There's no doubt he can do some things with it after he catches the ball, too. We had a plan that if they played us a certain way we'd attack them with him in the middle of the field, so that was kind of what happened and he did a good job executing."
Williams was the biggest reason why the receiving corps was expected to be much better this season. He was responsible for more than half of Auburn's 16 completions.
Williams had more than 2,000 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns in two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Williams is trying to follow in the footsteps from JUCO to SEC stardom to the NFL like former Tennessee receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who became a first-round NFL draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2013.
"When I see him as a punt returner and a kick returner, not too many can do that," Williams said. "Now he plays for the Vikings and he accomplished what he worked for coming out of JUCO by playing with Tennessee. Now everything he worked for, it paid off."
Williams is off to a good start on that path.