Rawleigh Williams III came to Arkansas with the mindset of getting on the field at tailback his freshman season, regardless of how few carries there might be available.
After all, the Razorbacks had two 1,000-yard rushers returning in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, as well as Kody Walker seemingly ready to shine after rushing for 174 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
But when Jonathan Williams went down with a season-ending foot injury, Rawleigh Williams (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) was the next man up in the rotation. Once a candidate to potentially redshirt, the former Dallas Bishop Lynch star will have a role this season in the Razorbacks' run game.
"They never got to the point where they were saying, 'We are going to play you or we are not,'" Williams said. "It was like, 'Man, just keep doing what you are doing and everything is going to work out.' I am just trying to do whatever they want me to do.
“You hate to get (playing time) the way (I) got it, but…I feel like this is an opportunity for me to show that I deserve to be here."
Williams had 15 carries for 106 yards with a 63-yard touchdown in Arkansas’ first scrimmage this preseason.
"We had two great running backs with J. Will and Alex and guys weren't paying no attention [to Rawleigh]," senior receiver Keon Hatcher said. "After that first scrimmage guys opened their eyes like, ‘Wow, this guy can play.’"
Williams had 45 yards on six carries in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Afterward he got a ringing endorsement from the older Williams, who could be back if the Razorbacks make the postseason.
"It's cool to see how much he loves the game,” Jonathan Williams said. “He definitely reminds me of myself, you know, when I came in, and how I was with Knile (Davis) and Dennis Johnson, those guys and try to shadow them. He definitely has the right mindset.”
Rawleigh Williams had 341 carries for 2,814 yards and 37 touchdowns last season as a senior.
He set Bishop Lynch records for career rushing yards (5,023), rushing touchdowns (62) and total touchdowns (71).
Williams has earned the respect of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.
“He’s just such a refreshing kid to coach,” Bielema said. “By no means is he ready to go out there right now and play every down, but he’ll get there day-by-day.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a freshman at any position that concentrates as much as he does.
"I could guess he'd be as mature as anybody walking out of there. He carries his father's name well, represents him well. Just everyday, it's, 'Yes sir, no sir.'”
In Williams, Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos sees a back that could be a good all-purpose player in the future. In addition to his rushing totals, Williams caught 15 passes for 198 yards and five touchdowns last season.
"He is very mature,” Enos said. “We think he is going to be an every-down back."
In part because of the freshman, Bielema believes the Razorbacks have the depth to survive the loss of Jonathan Williams.
Bielema announced at Monday’s Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting that he plans to give Collins and Walker both 15 to 20 carries per game. Williams should get 12 to 15 carries by a few weeks into the season, Bielema said.
“Everybody wants to talk about the two-headed monster,” Bielema said. “In my opinion, I went into (the first) scrimmage with four guys that I felt were SEC running backs, that were not just average and that can play in our type program.
“I was watching an SEC replay…and they had listed all the teams since 2005 that had tandem rushers of 1,000 yards or more. I think there were six different pairs listed. I want to say four of those pairs were guys that I had either recruited or coached.”
Former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards under Bielema's tutelage. Rawleigh Williams said he tries to model his game after Ball, who holds NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns in a career (71) and overall (83).
“I have always said since probably the eighth grade that it was Montee Ball,” Williams said. “He is just a guy that I used to watch him on YouTube.
“I remember one day my dad said, 'You lean like he did and kind of move like him.’ Since that I have kind of watched him play and tried to emulate my game around him."
Williams said he was naturally drawn to playing for the same head coach as Ball.
“I knew Coach Bielema since I was younger and when he came to Arkansas I thought, 'Man, that would be cool to play for him,' and that was before they offered.
“When they offered, I was like ‘Whoa, I can play for this guy.’”
Arkansas running backs coach Jemal Singleton said he was just getting the younger Williams ready with no thoughts of redshirting when the older Williams was injured.
“The way I look at it with running backs is that redshirts are for guys who are just not ready to play,” Singleton said. “I think until you figure out whether a guy is ready to go or not, you really don’t know.
“You can have a roomful, but I look at the Buffalo Bills and how many guys they have hurt right now? It is just the inherent nature of the position. If I can get a young guy ready to play as a freshman, let’s roll, let’s make it happen.”
Williams was happy he had a relationship with Singleton when he was coaching at Oklahoma State.
“Coach Singleton is a great coach,” Williams said. “I have known him since sophomore year in high school so we had a great relationship even when they had not offered me at Oklahoma State yet.
“When he came (to Arkansas), I was excited because it wasn’t like we had to start all the way over and it has gotten better and better every day.
“I think he is one of the best coaches in the country and he has kind of taught me about the little details that it takes to be a running back. I think that is getting me better even faster than I thought it would.”
The younger Williams picked up the nickname “Shadow” for following the older one around every where once he arrived on campus in late May.
“He always just tries to be the best at everything he does so I thought that was a good guy to follow,” Rawleigh Williams said.
"I mean that guy is the hardest worker I know. Since day one, this guy just wants to be the first in everything…He’s just a competitor. That’s something I feel I am.”
Singleton was happy to see that.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to see,” Singleton said. “I wanted to see him basically shadow a guy that knows how to do it, not only on the field, but off the field as well.
“When you have a young guy and then you have a role model in the room that he can follow, you can’t beat that. All the coaching in the world isn’t going to be better than that.”
Rawleigh Williams with his family on national signing day.