On one level, the answer is easy. The wide receiver from Maryland, who once was regarded as the nation's top high school recruit, a player the Oklahoma Sooners among so many others had coveted, is in the midst of preparations for his fourth and final season at Penn State.
Williams is a team captain, a fourth-year starter, and he led the team with 55 catches last season. He's tied for fifth on Penn State's all-time reception list with 117, but teammate Deon Butler, a former walk-on, is second at 132. Jordan Norwood, another teammate and a lightly recruited player from State College High School, is tied with Williams at 117 career catches.
Before Williams had played a single game at Penn State, one mock draft had him as the seventh overall pick of the 2008 draft, which would have been following his junior season, going to the Tennessee Titans to fill the need for a playmaker. That proved to be an overly optimistic projection.
Williams has had a successful college career, just not as spectacular as might have been expected. This leads to his low profile nationally and inquiries regarding a sense of urgency he might be feeling for this, his senior season.
"It seems like the other day, I just walked into school, and now, in another six months or so, I'll be walking out," Williams said. "It definitely went by fast. If I (could) do it over again, I wouldn't do it (any) other way."
Williams was an impact player as a freshman, catching the winning touchdown at Northwestern, a game that vaulted Penn State toward an 11-1 finish and No. 3 ranking in the final polls. Williams saw his season end early because of a broken arm suffered on a kickoff return in Michigan, the seventh game of the season.
It's been speculated that Penn State's potential return to its 2005 style of offense, a spread attack, could provide an opportunity for Williams to better showcase his skills by mixing in duty at wide receiver and in the backfield.
"I hope so," he said. "Every year I've been saying something new might happen. I honestly don't know, and I just want to go out there and play and let the season unfold for itself."
While his numbers have not been spectacular, Williams has had an unquestioned influence as a team leader, a role affirmed by his selection as a captain this season.
"Derrick has always been loud and vocal," said Sean Lee, the injured linebacker who is an honorary captain this season. "Before games, during practice, with Derrick around, he's always trying to pump guys up, get guys going."
As a group, Williams, Butler and Norwood are easily the most prolific group to play together at Penn State. For Williams, that is a sidelight.
"Going and winning a national championship, that's our goal," he said. "All the individual stuff, that comes with it. Right now, we're just focusing on trying to have a successful season."