Williams to start against Utah State

With the loss of junior starting running back Michael Alisa for six-to-eight weeks with a broken arm, the primary ball-carrying responsibilities will fall upon the shoulders of 17-year-old Jamaal Williams, who will get his first college start against Utah State.

After a great performance against Hawaii, true freshman Jamaal Williams will carry the load when he lines up in the Cougar backfield against Utah State this Friday.

"It doesn't seem like I'm the first-string," said a humble Williams. "We're still sharing runs and passes in practice. I feel like it isn't going to be just me, but all of us. There are still some things I can't do that others can do better than me. We all have strengths that we can use to help us win. I feel like we're all the starters just trying to help each other get better."

As the season has worn on, Williams has seen his production gradually increase. Much of that is due to becoming more acquainted with the expectations and demands of Division I football.

"Well, when I basically came here I just used what I had when I was in high school and tried to improve on those things," said Williams. "I feel I have good vision and quick feet to help me get onto the field I watched some of the older running backs, like Michael Alisa, to see how they approach the game. I seen them run hard, use power, back-side vision and things like that to be good runners, and so I'm just absorbing what they do into my game as best I can.

"I think I made a really big transformation since when I first came here. The first day when I came here I didn't know what the plays were, and now I'm looking at those plays like they're the most simplest plays in the world. I think I'm improving a lot more, and, with these past games that we've had, I feel like I'm getting better and better as the season goes on."

While at Summit High School, running the ball came naturally for Williams, but he feels he is becoming a more polished and well rounded running back at BYU.

"Running the ball hasn't been much of a problem for me and wasn't one of my worst problems, but I am getting better at it now since I've been here," Williams said. "Coach DuPaix tells me to keep the ball high and tight, whereas in the past I kept it low. Also, [he told me] to keep my pad level low in certain situations.

"When I was little, I didn't really like catching the ball. I had bad hands and wasn't very good at catching. I worked on that after practices and on the weekends with my uncle to improve for college football."

The results of that were seen in the Hawaii game. Against the Warrior defense, Williams' involvement within the offense was much more diverse and well rounded.

"I feel like I'm getting more passes coming out of the backfield now," Williams said. "I have my own formations and packages to get the ball now. Catching the ball and being able to do that has really helped me become involved more in our offense, and it's really helped me improve as a college football player."

He ran the ball 15 times for 156 yards, averaging just more than 10 yards per carry. He also caught two passes for 30 yards, but there's one more facet associated with being a very good BYU running back, and that's blocking.

"I'm learning to be a better blocker from Iona Pritchard and Zed Mendenhall," said Williams. "Iona has really helped me to be a better blocker in the pass pros. I know who to block in the calls but I just have to learn how to better block them. I just didn't have the technique to block and I'm working on that."

"He's ready to run it and he's ready to catch it," said Coach Doman. "I don't know if he's ready to protect yet, but that's the focus right now is to continue improving his running, continuing to improve his blocking and catching the football. Hopefully as he continues to get more and more reps he'll progress as a pass protector as well. But we ask our backs to do a lot, and so we do have David Foote and Iona Pritchard that can help us in those areas if we feel we have a deficiency in those areas. We have a strong backfield and we'll utilize them."

While his blocking and pass-catching skills are still under construction, Williams has been given the green light to play regardless. It's an unusual situation at BYU for a running back to play unless he is proficient at running, catching and blocking.

"He runs the ball really good," said Coach Doman. "Sometimes when you hand the ball off to some people they make people miss and make you look really good as a coach. You just like to hand it off to him and there's no secret.

"It's just that he's pretty good, and he's humble and he works hard and he's not begging for playing time. He just goes to work every single day, which is kind of fun to have a guy like that. He was heavily recruited kid out of high school and has every reason to come in with his nose up. He's a team guy, and our players respect him and they battle for him."

"I guess they just felt that I could help the offense with what I could do," said Williams. "We have a lot of good running backs but I guess they wanted me run the ball. I started doing pretty good and I guess they wanted me to continue doing it."

Coach Doman felt that the physical, hardnosed running style shown by Williams could help inspire an offense desperately in need of a toughness makeover.

"When it takes a guy or two to tackle a guy, your o-line plays differently," said Coach Doman. "When a quarterback doesn't get sacked when a guy is coming through and then you all of a sudden spin out and you don't get sacked, your o-line plays differently. Or, if you miss a block and your quarterback gets the ball out on time, it causes guys to play different. You saw our offense all of a sudden play different because all of a sudden guys are making plays and things start happening. That's what makes a great offense."

Williams did see the difference up front with his linemen in the Hawaii game.

"I believe it was our offense just having a different mindset," said Williams. "It was just a lot different in the Boise State game than the Hawaii game. In the Boise State game, they were just worrying about it a little bit. During the Hawaii game, they came out aggressive and were having fun. I see them smiling and playful, and that's something I like to see my linemen do, just having fun."

Regardless of who is in front of him blocking, Williams is just grateful there are big bodies at BYU willing to fight for running lanes and creases for him.

"I'm a freshman, and I was bigger than most of my linemen in high school, so I'm just happy to have linemen bigger than me," said Williams with a smile. "I'll trust in anybody that will block for me because I'm grateful for them blocking for me in the first place."

This Friday when Williams lines up across from the Utah State defense, he expects some stiff competition. But that isn't going to stop him from trying to conduct a repeat performance of what was seen against Hawaii last Friday.

"We expect to see a very good defense, but I feel like if we come out and have that same aggressive style of play like we had in our last game, we'll be fine," Williams said. "We have to come out and do our thing and come out like we did against Hawaii and do our thing."

Go do your thing Jamaal.

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