Steve Robertson -

Summer Season is Prime Preparation Time for Lead Bulldog Back

He is top Dog in the Bulldog backfield. Snaps and stats show it. What matters more is this: Aeris Williams finally feels like a number-one. “Yes, sir. And I’m going to keep it, know what I’m saying?”

Yes, indeed. After a couple of seasons serving backup and then rotation duty, 2017 is Williams’ time to take charge. To set the pace for Mississippi State’s ground game for a full fall, that is. This is the status and the responsibility junior Williams has earned.

“I thank God for it. But I’m going to try to keep that where it’s supposed to be.”

Keep what he won both in fall, then reinforced in spring, as Bulldogs go through this summer’s unsupervised pace. Motivation is easy since Williams is looking at fall as prime time for Mississippi State’s ground game.

Just look at last November when Williams combined with Nick Fitzgerald to literally pound-out big Bulldog wins over Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Between them the running back and quarterback gained 771 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in those dominating victories.

Those November runaways showed what the Mississippi State offense was capable of. What it even ought to have done the whole season, Williams now agrees. “All year, all year. We just had to put the pieces together.” At least now Bulldog folk and the rest of the SEC see how well these pieces are fitting, with Williams emerging as the necessary counter-weight to the quarterback keeper.

So the question: what took so long? Williams knows.

“You just have to find yourself. And when you find yourself ain’t no looking back.”

Well, not unless this number-one wants to keep an eye on a couple of other Dogs who want that job too. Running backs Coach Greg Knox praised the spring work of Williams’ classmate Dontavian Lee, fully-healed from the ankle injury that hobbled him in 2016. Lee always had get-to-edge speed, and now packs over 230 pounds of power.

This should allow State to not just mix-and-match the backs, but combine them in a twin-set. At the same time there’s sophomore Nick Gibson making his own spring statements after limited varsity snaps in ’16.

“He’s real smooth,” said Williams of the younger runner. “Like through his cuts and everything, he’s real smooth.” Gibson and Lee also serve to push the number-one Dog into summer workouts.

Then again, Williams is proving capable of pushing himself. He isn’t satisfied with having run for 720 yards and four touchdowns last season, averaging a solid 5.3 yards and losing just eleven total in his 137 carries. See, Williams packs his own keep-moving-forward power, too.

Now though he wants to be more than a pounder. Williams intends to miss more tacklers and break into open ground with moves. He said the development showed on game reviews all through 2016. “I’m more explosive through my cuts.”

“And with my cuts and keeping my head up with vision, stuff like that. You have to find yourself, and once you find that confidence there’s no stopping you.”

The notion Williams lacked for confidence seems strange. He so dominated at West Point High as ‘A Train’ that college success seemed certain and instant.

It wasn’t.

There were obvious technical items of course. Blocking, first and foremost, which was entirely new. “In high school I didn’t do a lot of blocking, so I had to find myself there.” Route running was another issue since chalkboard arrow-and-lines don’t always develop that way against a SEC defense.

Mostly, though, “It was just the confidence,” Williams said. “When you get on the field you have to have it up there. If not you’re going to be out there just running around. When you go out there you have to have the confidence to attack and execute every play.”

Williams officially has his confidence now. Spring ball built on his fast ’16 finish as Williams developed the finer points of running—and everything else—a Bulldog offense. Williams said he focused on better field vision, more consistent pad level, or “Making sure I have everything right for the game.”

There’s one other area Williams is getting his game right. His media game. To be blunt, for the first couple of seasons he was not exactly an ideal interview. Hesitant, maybe guarded in answers, antsy with microphones and cameras.

Now? He shows up at the media room making small talk and sharing jokes with the press corps, a growing guy confident in himself off the field as he is on it.

“I’m more comfortable around y’all guys! I like to be myself and I ain’t used to talking in front of everybody.”

Well, Williams best practice his talking game. Because indications are there will be much to say about Mississippi State’s ground game. Or the entire offense, Williams promises.

“I’m telling you now, it’s going to be a bright future. I’m telling you that now!”

Gene's Page Top Stories