Jarveon Williams revels in opportunity to play in UTSA’s first bowl game

Senior running back Jarveon Williams came to UTSA to play for a scrappy, over-achieving, start-up program. Later, he suffered through two straight losing seasons and a coaching change. Now he has a chance to make history in his career finale when UTSA kicks off against New Mexico on Saturday in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

Presented by Pat Clynes and The Fritz Kennel

By Jerry Briggs
For InsideRunnerSports.com

Senior running back Jarveon Williams arrived at UTSA’s front door not too long after the birth of the football program.  He will head for the exit this weekend after helping to spark a re-birth.

“It’s just surreal,” Williams said earlier this week.  “Hard to believe my last collegiate game is less than seven days away.”

It’s been a memorable ride for the school’s all-time leading rusher.

Williams came to UTSA in 2013 when players were still driving their cars off campus to early-morning workouts held at a nearby high school field.

His final game as a player, set for Saturday afternoon, just so happens to be the first bowl game in UTSA’s six-year history.

It’s a matchup between the Roadrunners (6-6) and the New Mexico Lobos (8-4) in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

First-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson has hinted that the game may not necessarily be Williams’ last as a member of the program.

Wilson has mentioned Williams as a coaching prospect.

“Jarveon’s been tremendous,” Wilson said.  “Both on and off the field, he’s been a joy to be around.  He’s such a joy to coach.

“He’s a guy who, one day, you hope he would come back and you would put on your coaching staff.  He means that much to us.”

In the record books, Williams’ name is everywhere.

Most notably, he ranks No. 1 in rushing yards in a career (2,268), in a season (1,042, last season) and in a game (186 against Charlotte, also last season).

Statistics tell only a fraction of his story.

Each year, teammates have talked about how his work habits set the pace for the team.

“Jarveon has always been a put-your-head-down type player, and just go to work,” senior safety Michael Egwuagu said. “You don’t have to say much.  You don’t have to brag about your accomplishments (or) brag about your skill set.”

Just go to work. It’s been a calling card for both Egwuagu, the leader of the defense, and Williams, who leads the offense.  

Interestingly, both are totally different personalities.

Egwuagu is outgoing and sings rap.  Williams is more the quiet type, never saying much.

Nevertheless, both found common ground four years ago when they invested in a football program that had played only 22 games in two seasons before they arrived.

They shared their feelings with one another while rooming at the Conference USA media days in Dallas last summer.

“I really got to see how his brain works, how his mind works,” Egwuagu said. “Really, sort of just like mine.”

Egwuagu learned that Williams draws significant strength from his immediate family – his 1-year-old daughter, Kailani, his brother, Julon, and his parents, Tyisha Wagner and Julon Williams.

“There’s a certain spot in football, when things get hard, you have to dig deep and you have to find that thing that you’re playing for, what you’re fighting for.  I got to see his reason, and it made me respect him that much more,” Egwuagu said.

His reason?  Her name is Kailani.

“Yeah,” Egwuagu said.  “Definitely.”

Williams confirmed Egwuagu’s assessment, that his family is his foundation.

“Just having that close bond with them always is what drives me to be who I am and to do what I do,” he said.

Williams has just about seen it all during his career at a start-up program that once practiced at Farris Stadium, about five miles west of the main campus.

Players’ alarm clocks would buzz at 5 a.m.  Practices would start so early that the stadium lights at the Northside Independent School District facility illuminated the field when they arrived.

“I had my own car, or some days, I’d ride with my roommate,” Williams said of his freshman year fall camp experience.  “We’d just car pool over there, depending on the day.  It’s funny.  That was so long ago, but it feels like it was yesterday.”

The 2013 squad eventually moved to plush, new on-campus practice fields at the end of his first fall camp.

After that, they surprised everyone, finishing 7-5, the first time in history that a start-up won seven games against FBS programs in its third year.

“It was a remarkable team,” said Williams, who played 11 games as a freshman. ”Guys that a lot of people looked over, passed over (in recruiting), they all bought in and believed in themselves.”

The next two seasons taxed Williams’ patience, but he never let it show.  

UTSA skidded to records of 4-8 in 2014 and 3-9 in 2015.  Through it all, Williams would patiently address the media, saying that he still believed in his coaches and teammates.

When the slide continued over two full seasons, UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey finally acted, firing the school’s original coach, Larry Coker.

Invested heavily in Coker’s program, Williams was stunned.

He admitted wondering at the time whether he should consider leaving.  Seeking clarity on the direction of the program, he met face-to-face with athletic director Lynn Hickey last January.

“I needed to know what I needed to do for myself, as far as, ‘Do I need to consider other options?’ ” Williams said.  “What steps do I need to take to make sure I have a good senior year?  Things of that nature. I had a meeting with her … She let me know we were going to be OK.”

When UTSA hired Wilson, Williams hit it off with the new coach.  He said he liked how Wilson spoke directly and challenged players to work and play as a team.

Williams also liked how Wilson would talk to players about life issues outside of football.  

For instance, on the off week after UTSA returned from Old Dominion, the coach informed the team of a “trading card” plan to link the ball club with the San Antonio Police Department.

Officers would hand out UTSA football cards – Williams’ likeness was on one of them – to children who could trade them for tickets to an upcoming game.

With protests taking place nationwide over violence involving police and African-American citizens, Wilson told the players in laying out the trading card plan that it was important to act in a respectful manner in any dealings with law enforcement.

“(Coach) doesn’t shy away from controversial topics that are going on in the world,” Williams said.  “He brings it to light with the team.  He lets us know and makes sure we’re cognizant of what’s going on around us, and how we have to be careful when we’re approached in certain situations.”

Williams struggled early this season with an ankle sprain he suffered in an opening-night victory over Alabama State.

With the former Judson High School standout playing at less than 100 percent, he rushed for only 38 yards through the first three games.  

But after shaking the injury, he turned it on, rolling to a team-leading 775 yards and eight touchdowns. The production of Williams and junior Jalen Rhodes (756 yards, nine touchdowns) is considered a key to UTSA’s success in the bowl game.

Williams said New Mexico’s defense, stacked with experience in 10 returning starters, will pose problems.

“They fly around,” he said.  “They have good defensive line play and they have good players on the back end, as well, in the secondary.  They make a lot of plays.”

Fittingly, UTSA will enter the New Mexico Bowl as an underdog.  

New Mexico is favored on its home field by seven points.  Williams just smiled and shrugged and said he has grown accustomed to feeling overlooked by now.

“It’s nothing new,” he said.  “Just another game.  It’s another day that we have an opportunity to play a game that we love.  That’s how we have to look at it.  Just focus on ourselves and execute to the best of our abilities.”

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