Cadillac Looking For A Fresh Start

Carnell Williams talks about his recovery from injury and the upcoming season.

Auburn, Ala.--Things weren't supposed to turn out the way they have for Auburn tailback Carnell Williams. One of the top prospects in the country when he came to Auburn in the fall of 2001, Williams was set to turn the football world on its ear as a freshman.

Although Williams has been impressive as a college runing back, his first two seasons have been filled with disappointment after suffering season-ending injuries as both a freshman and a sophomore.

Playing in just 16 games his first two seasons with nine starts, he has rushed for 1,359 yards and 16 touchdowns. Averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 261 attempts, Williams has gotten the job done when on the field, but staying on the field has been the problem. Hoping to avoid a shortened season for a third straight time this fall, Williams has been busy getting stronger while getting his ankle ready to withstand the punishment he will see this fall.

"I feel like I've had a very successful summer," Williams tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "I've been doing a lot of rehab training on my ankle and working hard with Coach Yox (Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Yoxall). Being around these guys, we've been working as a team this summer. The chemistry is really going well."

Williams scores against Syracuse last season.

Although he will be a junior with seemingly lots of experience, the truth is that Williams hasn't played a great deal of football in two seasons. Taking away the 13 total carries in three of his starts (Alabama in 2001, Western Carolina and Florida in 2002), Williams has actually been the main running back in just six of his college starts. That hasn't kept him from doing some pretty impressive things though as he averaged 105 yards in those games with 10 touchdowns. Without a ton of action, he has already managed to move into 22nd place all-time on Auburn's rushing charts.

Because of his serious injury in the Florida game, Williams was expected to be held out of the contact work in spring drills, but the tailback had another plan. Waiting in the wings on the sidelines while getting his legs back into shape, the junior-to-be took part in a spring scrimmage and showed flashes of what he's capable of doing when healthy. That marked a big hurdle for Williams, who says the work was very important for his confidence going into the summer.

"I feel like that's one of the biggest things that has happened to me, to be able to get some work this spring," he notes. "I know the coaches and trainers wanted to hold me out without contact the whole spring, but laying there watching all the other guys train, me as a player wanted to just compete. I felt like it was going to be a big boost for me to go through the spring knowing that I went through a little spring ball and got hit on it, turned it, and ran on it. It played a big role for me going into this season because I did it when I wasn't really able to do it. I still did it and now I've rehabbed it more and got it stronger. I should be doing good going into the season."

Under the leadership of quarterback Jason Campbell, who player after player say has been an improved leader and passer this summer, the Tigers have been busy getting the young guys on offense up to speed prior to the start of team practices in August. The team is also continuing to learn the nuances of an offense that will be tweaked to fit the styles of new coordinator Hugh Nall as well as quarterback Coach Steve Ensminger. Because of that Williams says things have been a little different on the Plains this summer.

The Cadillac leaves a Trojan defender in his wake in last year's game.

"Last summer we had people who would miss workouts here or there because it was too hot or they didn't feel like doing it because the work is voluntary," Williams notes. "This year everybody is here and the workout is intense. Whatever we do with the defense is intense. Our whole mindset is, ‘let's use this day to get better.' We don't want to go out there and just go through the motions. With those seniors like D.T. (Dontarrious Thomas), Dansby (Karlos Dansby), Demarco (Demarco McNeil) and all them leading the way it has been a lot different around here."

Something that Williams is practicing this summer is fielding kicks, a welcome addition to his duties this coming season. As a high school superstar at Etowah just outside of Gadsden, Williams was one of the top return men in the country when teams kicked the ball his way. With Roderick Hood gone and the Tigers searching for someone to make big plays in the special teams department, Williams says he's anxious to see what he can do this season.

"I'm really looking forward to returning some kicks," he says. "The whole time I have been here I've been telling the coaches I could do it, but I guess they didn't want to risk me getting tired because they knew I was going to carry the bulk of the load. Now I believe this year I'm going to do a little kickoff returning and I'm really looking forward to it."

Williams says he and his teammates are also looking forward to the season opener against the USC Trojans on Aug. 30 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Last year he got off to an explosive start with 97 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries in the first half against a tough USC defense, but things would change dramatically in the final 30 minutes. Suffering from cramps because he failed to eat properly the day of the game, Williams was ineffective and Auburn lost a chance for the big win. Now a year older and wiser, Williams says the Tigers are looking forward to facing one of the best teams in the country.

"It's going to be a great challenge," he notes. "We went up there and they defended their home turf. We're looking for a little revenge. They took it to us in the second half last year. They have to come down here to ‘The Jungle' now so we're just looking for an exciting ball game.

"It's going to be a fun season," he adds. "We come into the season anywhere from one to six or seven in the country. We kind of have a target on our back, but to me that's all good and fun. If we go out there and play ball on Saturday and back everything up and if we continue to get better day by day, we're going to be fine."

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