RB Zaire Williams back healthy, more mature

At the end of Tuesday’s practice, the entire Temple football team did sprints sideline to sideline. Redshirt sophomore running back Zaire Williams finished first every time. With his back and mind both sound, Williams is looking to lead the way this season. A bulging disk in his lower back ended his true sophomore season at just one game after he ran for 533 yards his first year.

At the end of Tuesday’s practice, the entire Temple football team did sprints sideline to sideline.

Redshirt sophomore running back Zaire Williams finished first every time.

With his back and mind both sound, Williams is looking to lead the way this season. A bulging disk in his lower back ended his true sophomore season at just one game after he ran for 533 yards his first year – the third highest total behind Bernard Pierce and Paul Palmer for a freshman in Temple history.

“I’m good now, ready to go,” said Williams. “I rehabbed during the winter, did a lot of core work and I’m getting back strong. (The pain) started in summer workouts. I pushed through it, didn’t want to miss any time but as the season began, it started to get worse and I started to feel it in my leg.

“One I got the MRI and figured out what it was, I just had to take a step back, take the year off and get ready for this big year. I’m hungry to get back on the field. It’s tough to go from playing football every year for 15 years to sitting at home. It ate away at me, but it makes you open your eyes and see how great this game really is.”

During the last few months Williams rested and rehabbed and maybe just as importantly set his mind right. Coach Matt Rhule said he sees a much more mature player this spring.

“No one on the team is as competitive as Zaire,” said Rhule. “As he’s grown up another year, he’s doing things the right way and taken a lot of steps. He just didn’t look like a great back (in training camp), wasn’t making great cuts, wasn’t explosive in the hole.

“He was (running) fourth string because that’s how he looked. There was a reason why. You don’t go from 500 yards to fourth string for no reason. He had the back issue and it was compounded by a little bit of immaturity, but now he’s completely healthy, has had a full offseason, and you see a guy that looks explosive.”

Williams agreed he had some off-the-field issues to correct in addition to the physical problems.

“Sometimes people got on my nerves and I would shut down or I’d get upset if I didn’t get my way,” admitted Williams. “You can’t do that … It’s life, you don’t always get your way. Sitting the year out kind of helped. I was young and immature.

“I got some counseling at school. It was good having somebody to talk to, get a little advice, because I always like to be able to share my story or problems.”

Williams will be part of what expects to be a tight running back competition with Jahad Thomas, Jamie Gilmore, David Hood, Jabo Lee and recruits T.J. Simmons and Ryquell Armstead in the mix.

“Right now, Zaire started a bunch of games, Jahad started a bunch of games, David Hood, Jamie … All four guys know they can play at a high level and Jabo Lee, watching him run reminds you why you signed him,” said Rhule. “It’s a tremendous competition and bringing in the next group of backs, who are 200-pound backs, it’s position we never felt like was at a level we want to a position of strength.”

Williams is looking forward to the competition. He’s also looking for a reunion with some other players who were teammates of his at South Jersey power Timber Creek.

Defensive back Kareem Ali is in camp now and defensive lineman Greg Webb and wide receiver Adonis Jennings are expected to transfer in this summer.

“We’re gonna bring a different swagger to the field,” said Williams. “A lot of people don’t understand it’s a culture we created in high school. We never accepted failure. Coach (Rob) Hinson never accepted less than your best effort.“

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