Despite heavy competition between four running backs, Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema announced sophomore Jonathan Williams as the starter against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
"It's exciting, you know, all the hard work paying off," Williams said. "We have a good group of running backs in Alex Collins, Kody Walker, Nate Holmes. We have a good stable of running backs, so it's exciting to be the starter.
"I don't remember exactly when it was, but it meant a lot," Williams added. "When someone has the trust in you and the faith in you to name you the starting running back for a team that's going to run the ball a lot, they have to have a lot of faith in you. So it made me feel excited and really encouraged me. It made me work harder. With that type of responsibility, you have to work hard. You have to step up. It just made me take on the responsibility."
Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas said he has seen a lot of improvement out of Williams since the spring. Last season, Williams competed with two seniors (Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo) and redshirt junior Knile Davis, who entered the NFL draft, for playing time.
"The challenge out of spring was for him to develop the kind of style we would like to embody, a downhill, physical running back, one that you are going to have consistent with your carries," Thomas said. "A five and a half yard carry is a good carry. You don't need to hit a home run every time you touch the ball."
Williams said the difference in carries during fall camp this year compared to the work he got competing with Wingo, Johnson and Davis on the team has been beneficial.
"Being able to take more reps at practice and being able to go with the ones more and things like that, it's really got me ready to be the starting running back," Williams said. "I have a great coach in coach Thomas and he's definitely prepared me mentally and physically. So I definitely feel like I'll be able to improve."
Even though Williams has been named the No. 1 running back, Thomas said continuous competition will be good for Williams and the unit as a whole.
"Regardless of the competition any time you are named the guy it's a confidence builder," Thomas said. "The challenge is, don't give up that title while at the same time I am telling Alex, Kody and Nate, take his title. It's all about competition."
Williams said fellow running backs Walker, Holmes and Collins all have different abilities that they bring to the table.
"We have a lot of versatility in the room and you can even throw (fullbacks) Kiero (Small) and Patrick (Arinze) in there, so I feel like we have a lot of versatility at our position.
"Any four of us could be in there at any given moment."
Holmes, a sophomore, is a speedster that is listed as one of the Razorbacks' potential kick returners along with Eric Hawkins. Walker is a redshirt sophomore who has suffered two leg injuries, but in five games, he has scored six touchdowns. Then Collins is the highly-touted, versatile freshman running back on the team.
In limited work last season, Jonathan Williams totaled 231 rushing yards on 45 carries and 208 receiving yards on eight receptions, including a pair of 70-plus yard touchdowns in the Razorbacks' 49-7 win against Kentucky.
Williams excited for first start
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