Dexter Williams doesn’t want to compare himself to Josh Adams, but it’s impossible not to look at Notre Dame’s two sophomore running backs as a package deal.
Williams was the bigger name in recruiting, a four-star with a national offer list and one of the final commits in the Irish class. Yet Adams ultimately set Notre Dame’s freshman rushing record while Williams played a bit part in the Irish offense, taking six DNPs and recording just seven carries in the season’s final two months.
That combination probably won’t share carries equally with starter Tarean Folston this fall, but Williams should be a bona fide third back at worst and essential asset at best.
“It didn’t go as I expected it to go, but at the same time I was humbled, learning from my mistakes, learning from what others had done,” Williams said. “It was (Adams’) time to step up and he stepped up big time. When it’s my time I plan on stepping up big time as well.”
Williams posted a game-high 13 carries for 43 yards in the spring game, including a 16-yard touchdown where he ran through tackles of Josh Barajas and Max Redfield. Even though that run bounced outside, head coach Brian Kelly believes where the Florida product thrives most is between the tackles.
That means Williams could be part of Notre Dame’s red zone fix.
“We’ve had some goal line, short-yardage runs where when he gets his pads down he’s an explosive inside runner,” Kelly said. “That’s where he’s impressed us the most.
“I’m not trying to make him sound like a 250-pound back, but he’s been very explosive in a downhill where he’s assertive and he knows what he’s going to do.”
That was an issue for Williams last season as he made the transition to Notre Dame to play for a coach who didn’t recruit him. Williams was a Tony Alford target and when Alford left for Ohio State just before National Signing Day it disappointed the running back but didn’t make him rethink his decision.
A year into his Irish career, Autry Denson appears to be a good match as a Florida product and Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher. Williams didn’t know much about Denson before he took the job, other than their shared home state. That was a good start.
“I knew he was a guy that I could put my trust in and he would lead me the way,” Williams said. “It was a tough route, but I managed to get through it. I’m confident, I’m more comfortable in my playing style and I plan on contributing a lot.”
Williams admitted that in high school that he could take whatever steps he wanted on run plays because he was usually the best player on the field. Now he’s rewiring his approach, understanding that how he steps can make the difference between holes opening or not.
“It just made me humble myself a lot more,” Williams said. “I was able to experience not playing every down, every second of the game. It was something that humbled me and made me want to get better, improve on my craft and just work harder. That’s what’s I’ve been doing this whole spring since I’ve got here.”
Assuming Folston and Adams stay healthy – both have suffered season-ending ACL tears in their careers – Williams should still get regular work based on Kelly’s offensive precedents. In four of Kelly’s six seasons, Notre Dame’s third back has logged at least 50 carries. If Williams can do that behind Folston and Adams, the Irish should have a well-rounded run game.
“I’m getting the idea that it will be more of a rotation because we all bring something different to the table,” Williams said. “It’s hard to keep a running back group that’s so good all on the bench at one time and just let one play when we all can bring a lot to the table.”