The path of a young running back

If there has been a pleasant surprise over the course of this season, it's been young Cougar running back Jamaal Williams. He's come a long way since his first carry against Washington State, and BYU fans should be excited for his future.

While this season might not have developed as expected, finishing strong is important to the team regardless.

"We still want to finish the season strong," Jamaal Williams said. "The Idaho game was a good game for the seniors. To have them go out in their last home game with a bang I think was a good game for that to happen. Now it's time to get more serious and try to finish off this season great."

Williams has personally seen how the season's shortcomings have affected his senior Cougar teammates.

"Yeah, I can feel it, but we just need to keep moving on and let the past go," said Williams. "We just need to try and finish it off good though. I feel like it's been a good season for me personally, but for the team I feel like we can do better and just keep working hard and getting better."

On a personal level, Williams' road to early stardom came by way of astute observation of other successful running backs. He's a quick learner and has played well beyond his years all season long.

"When I was a senior in high school I noticed that most good running backs, they go north and south," Williams said. "That's mostly how you get your good yards is going north and south, [rather] than trying to bounce it out.

"I've learned that in the first game [against Washington State] trying to go to the outside more than going north and south, so it's been a real learning experience for me just running hard and basically put fear in the defense with going north and south trying to pound them. Then once they know that you're one of those running backs, then you can bounce it outside and do those things that you're used to."

So Williams has laid his heart and soul out in every game for his teammates. He's taken some of the lessons learned from his high school days and applied them to his new college experience.

"I think it's just me being a hard worker and being kind of disciplined from me being at my old high school," William said. "My high school coach taught me to be very disciplined. Just go in there, be humble, learn what you can learn and just be disciplined too."

That means sacrifice and dedication as well, and when it comes to football, the thing that is sacrificed the most is physical health. Williams was suffering from a bruised knee prior to the Idaho contest, but that didn't stop him from going out and making a 10-carry, 104-yard impression.

"No, I still had the mentality of playing in that game anyways," he said. "After I had that big run, I knew it was kind of slowing me down a little bit, but I feel like I did exceptionally well with a bruised knee and nothing worse and I can finish out the season."

Ever since Michael Alisa went down earlier in the season with a broken arm, Williams has carried the bulk of the rushing load. So how is he feeling physically overall?

"I'm feeling pretty good. It's just a bruised knee and that's it," Williams said with a smile. "It's a 17-[year-old] body trying to get used to the college football life. There's the little bumps and bruises but nothing a little training, icing can't fix, so I'm doing alright."

Since his first game, Williams has focused on running harder.

"Mostly just keep fighting, keep fighting," Williams said. "They kind of underestimate me a little bit because I might be smaller and younger, so I mostly just have that mentality of just trying to be the hardest worker out there, and you have to play me like any other college running back.

"I feel like I've improved more with my vision and my cutbacks and just running harder. In that first game [against Washington State] I feel like I went down easy. It only took one person. Now I feel like I need to work harder and use my third wheel to stay up and just do what I need to do to fight for every yard."

Despite all the success he's enjoyed throughout the season, Williams said he doesn't feel like there's a large bull's-eye on his back.

"No, I really don't," Williams said. "I feel like I'm just going out there playing football just having fun. They don't know me, I'm just 17. Like everybody does, I expect everyone to say, ‘Oh, it's just a 17-year-old and we're going to tackle him like nothing.' I like being the younger one and the most underrated player on the field."

Humble and teachable, Williams doesn't take all the credit for his early success. Instead he gave a lot of the credit to fellow running back Michael Alisa.

"He helps me a lot," said Williams. "He teaches me everything he knows in the video room and shows me all the tips he's been using. I mostly look at all his tapes from games where he's started. I just learn everything from him, mostly, and all the senior running backs like David Foote. They all help me out a little bit, and I'm grateful for them just being able to share their experiences with me to become a better running back."

From the beginning of his young career to now, Williams has improved in some key areas. One thing he's had to improve at is being more physical in the blocking scheme on passing plays.

"Yup, I'm doing good," Williams said. "I'm starting to get in there and trying to be ruthless. I always wait for a lineman to come in there and hit them, then I come in and give them a shoulder check to make them fall. Then I feel like I did it. I feel like I'm really progressing a lot. I'm trying to learn more about the cutting, but I'm not afraid to try and stand them up without any hesitation because I'll do anything to protect my quarterback."

Next up on the Cougar schedule is San Jose State. While Williams has enjoyed a lot of success rushing the ball in his recent outings, he expects to protect quarterback Riley Nelson more.

"Honestly, I really expecting to block more, really, because we have great wide receivers, and it's good to see that when they get on that streak they can do whatever they want," Williams said. "When they're hot, they're hot, and I'm just grateful to be blocking for wide receivers who have that ability to score and make plays all the time."

The Spartans are tied for seventh nationally with 34 sacks on the year.

"They're very aggressive," Williams said. "They go hard every play and I can see that. They feel like they have something to prove every time they come onto the field, and I expect them to come even harder now because we beat them last year. They don't think it was fair for us to beat them last year, so I just can't wait for the game."

Regardless of what BYU's game plan is heading into the San Jose State game, Williams is going to go out and just be Jamaal Williams.

"I pretty much just expect myself just go out there and help my team win basically by scoring touchdowns or being the lead block for our quarterbacks," he said with a smile. "Just doing what I have to do to help our team win."

Cougar fans have no doubt about that.

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