Williams gains gratitude from injury

On a fourth down at the 29-yard line against Utah, BYU needed one yard for a first down. The ball was given to Jamaal Williams, who put his head down and busted through the line for a two-yard gain. One by one, 300-pound linemen intertwined with linebackers peeled off the pile to reveal a motionless Williams. A sudden hush instantly swept through thousands of fans holding their breath.

Then something happened. As Williams laid still on the ground – much to the concerns of teammates, coaches and rival players – the quiet of the night was broken as fans began to chant, "Williams! Williams! Williams!"

"It was great!" Williams said. "I felt important and I felt that people actually cared for me, so just to have that many text messages and mentions on Instagram, I'm truly grateful, especially from fans, family members, rivalry teams and players. It's just great to see that football brings people together even if you get hurt."

When Adam Hine went down with a concussion against Middle Tennessee, running back coach Mark Atuaia walked to the hospital rather than drive there to see his player. The reason he did that was because he felt he could get there faster on foot due to all the traffic leaving the stadium. One week prior to Hine's injury, Atuaia showed similar love and concern for Williams after he was taken off the field on a stretcher following a concussion.

"[Atuaia] came to the hospital," Williams recalled with a tone of humility and admiration. "He said he saw me laying there and he couldn't come inside yet. It shows that he cares a lot for us, and I love him to death. He's been here since I've been here and it shows he cares for our health more than he cares for us playing the game."

When Coach Atuaia was able to regain his composure and look Williams in the eyes, he expressed some words of sincerity in a lighthearted manner – more than likely to cover his own emotions.

"He told me that he was just scared to death that I went down like that," said a somber Williams. "He was like, 'Don't ever do that to me again.' When you hear those words you know they care a lot."

After missing the game against Middle Tennessee, Williams returned to the field against Utah State last Friday. Coach Atuaia didn't allow Williams to go run wild, and at first he didn't understand why.

"I was a little upset in the Utah State game because he wouldn't let me get in all the time," said a reserved but modest Williams. "But he explained it to me and helped me understand. He told me why he couldn't just let me go in there like that and be reckless again, so I understand and I'm grateful to have him."

"We did that by design, and he was jumping up and down wanting to get back in at the end, but we have Algie Brown, who before that game was a nice relief for Jamaal," said Coach Mendenhall. "Jamaal will carry the ball more this week [against Georgia Tech] than he did last week, but we're still going to use Algie some."

Last week Coach Atuaia spoke about the mantle of stewardship he feels he has in the development, success, and more importantly the overall welfare of his players. The way that Williams was utilized in the Utah State game proved to him that his welfare is far more important to Atuaia than him making his coach look good out on the field.

"I know he's doing it for the greater good for me," said Williams. "The disappointment just comes from the competitor in me just to go out there and play. To hear that you can't go out there and do the same thing right now and 'We're just going to ease you back in and get you back prepared' is something you don't want to hear but understand at the same time.

"At first when I first heard it I was really disappointed and upset, but when you get past the game on the ride back you think about it and you know they care. They want you to play longer than what you want to do right now, so it's more about you playing in the future than right now."

Watching any player go down with a devastating injury is difficult to see, no matter what team they play for. Star Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton suffered a season-ending injury last Friday against BYU, and Williams expressed sympathy for him.

"Chuckie, I wish for him on getting better because nobody likes to see someone go down like that and not be able to finish the season," said Williams. "I wish him the best, even if he is at Utah State. He's still a football player, and football players stick together."

It's that type of kind, thoughtful and caring disposition that has endeared Williams to coaches, players and fans. For Coach Mendenhall much of that fondness started during the recruiting process when Coach Mendenhall saw how willing Williams was in seeking out a college that valued higher standards as part of the college acceptance process. Since that time the bond between player, coaches and the fan base has grown ever stronger.

"Jamaal had to trust us to come to BYU," Coach Mendenhall said. "There are a lot of things that, in the typical stereotype of a BYU player, Jamaal doesn't fit, but he trusted in us and he's had a great experience here. I think that's endeared him to us because of that trust and vice versa, and also the fans. I think they recognize a kid that's maybe made a unique choice, and I think they're proud of him for that because he's not seeking to be outside of the standards. He's working hard to be within."

It's no wonder why fans chanted his name as Williams laid still upon the grass that night

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