Last August, at the beginning of contact drills, the established Auburn football players were not yet impressed with the Tigers' highly touted running back recruit. To them he was just another freshman who had to earn their respect before it was given to them.
On his first carry in a live 11-on-11 drive, he was smashed to the ground in the backfield by senior defensive end James Callier, much to the delight of the defensive players on the field and on the sideline. One defender yelled out that the freshman looked more like a "Yugo" than a Cadillac and there was also a reference to the long-gone and not lamented Ford Pinto.
So Carnell "Cadillac" Williams' first days on the practice fields were met with jeers of Pinto and Yugo. But after a stellar freshman season Williams has earned has earned the respect of his Tiger teammates.
"It's all Cadillac now," Williams says with a smile during a break on his way to summer conditioning workouts. "I haven't heard anybody say Pinto or Yugo or any of those other names. I think I have gained the confidence of my team and I am very thankful of that."
Williams looks for yardage in Fayetteville.
Williams' freshman campaign got off to a slow start. He carried the ball only 55 times, gaining 211 yards and scoring three touchdowns in the first seven games. However, against Vanderbilt Williams showed everyone watching a flash of what was to come when he broke off a 51-yard touchdown run.
Against Arkansas and Georgia, Williams became the Tigers' workhorse and earned some serious respect not only from his teammates, but throughout the league. He carried the ball 19 times for 177 yards and one touchdown at Arkansas. And against Georgia, Williams set a new Auburn record by carrying the ball 41 times, which netted him 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Heading into the Alabama game, Williams was running all over the competition and everyone expected much of the same against the Tide. However, Williams broke his collar bone early in the first quarter after just five carries and was forced to watch the rest of the game.
"You know as a kid growing up in the state of Alabama the Auburn-Alabama game is year-round," notes Williams, who adds that it was frustrating to go down with an injury in that game. "For me to be playing in the game for the first time, it was like a dream come true. I was so fired up and so pumped up because I thought I was going to live my dream. But it ended up a nightmare with me getting hurt and watching from the sidelines."
Williams says he can't wait to get another shot at the Tide. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about that game," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I mean I'm looking forward to playing them. They have a great team coming back. It's going to be fun going down there. I can't wait."
Even though he suffered a serious shoulder injury against Alabama, Williams nearly recovered in time for the Peach Bowl game against North Carolina. However, in an effort not to chance further injury it was decided that he would be held out until spring practice. With that decision Williams continued on his road to recovery with an off the field rehab that had him back at full speed for spring drills in March.
Williams became the first freshman in Auburn history to rush for back-to-back 150 yard games.
"My shoulder is doing fine," Williams says. "I actually never think about it. I never have any problems out of it. I am very confident that going into the season there won't be any problems with it."
Spring was very important to knowing it was fully healed, Williams says. "I didn't want to go into the season with doubt. And now I am going into the season with no doubt that my shoulder is OK because I had no trouble out of it in the spring except for just a little soreness."
With Williams' spectacular late season effort and fully healed collar bone, he has drawn a lot of attention to heading into this season. And he says he thinks it could be more of a challenge this year with opposing defenses keying on him. "Of course, it's going to be tougher," he says. "I feel like it's going to be much harder, but with the players around me--my teammates and this coaching staff--we're all going to work together and just play as one."
Williams says he feels like the Tigers learned a lot throughout the 15 days of spring drills. New coordinator Bobby Petrino installed a new offensive system he brought with him from the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and numerous stops as a college coach.
"I feel like we've already progressed so much because that first week everybody's head was spinning," Williams says. "But as spring training went on each day we were getting better and better, and now we're more confident with the offense. And we are studying over the summer. I mean the players are getting together and studying on their own. So we're making progress."
Petrino says he definitely has plans to feature the Cadillac in the 2002 Auburn offense. Williams says that is exciting. "He is just stressing the run more," Williams says. "We've got a lot more plays, a lot more misdirection plays and then we can go into a zone offense. And with our passing game as good as it's going to be, it is really going to help us out."
The young offensive line Williams will be running behind is considered an area of concern with three starting spots to be replace. Missing are two NFL draftees. "Of course, it is going to be a little tougher, but those guys, that O-line, I wouldn't trade them for anyone," Williams says of the 2002 front. "I mean they are working hard, they're big, they're young and they get after it. So it's going to be fun working with those guys."
Auburn was just one victory away from reaching the SEC Championship Game last season. Returning to Atlanta to face the winner of the SEC East is a team goal for the 2002 Tigers.
"We want to win the SEC Championship," Williams says. "Everybody is saying that we are young, but we want to play for the national championship this year. I don't see why we couldn't. We have got the talent and the ingredients, but we just need to have some players step up."
As for his individuals goals, Williams says, "I want to be one of the best backs in the country. I want to rush for well over 1,000 yards and just instill in this team to have confidence."
This summer Williams, like most of Auburn's football players, is keeping busy. "Monday through Friday I'm at class (English and speech classes) and working out, then after that I go to the house and rest. Then I come up here (to the football complex) and throw around and watch film on USC, of course, breaking them down."
Williams earned Freshman All-SEC honors with 614 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He added 13 receptions for 140 yards and returned eight kickoffs for a 23.8 average per return. With good health and a year's experience under his belt, look for those numbers to improve in 2002.
Tiger Ticket Extra Williams is expected to open the 2002 season weighing around 10 more pounds than he did at the start of his freshman season. He currently weighs 198 pounds. He had been up over 200, but says he lost some weight after a recent trip to the dentist to have several wisdom teeth removed. The sophomore is carrying his extra weight well and looks more impressive physically than he did during his freshman season.