Hard Work Pays off for Morgan Williams

Morgan Williams came out of high school a star, heavily recruited by some big names. He had set the career rushing record for Stark County in south central Ohio. But the big names had backed off as he struggled with academic issues. He sat out 2007 and worked on his grades, paying his own tuition at UT. And he got eligible, and is making the best of it.

Look at the official site for UT Rocket athletics today and you'll see a story about starting running back DaJuane Collins. It talks about his patience, waiting for his opportunity to be the feature back, learning from his predecessors. It talks about his performance on the field, which puts him 10th nationally in rushing per game. DaJuane is averaging over 8 yards per carry so far this season and has been a force for the Toledo offense.

Now look at the final stats from last Saturday's game and you'll see that Collins had 134 yards rushing on the night. You'll also see that his last carry of the night came on Toledo's first possession of the 2nd half. Collins had sprained his ankle in the 2nd quarter and went to the sidelines to get wrapped up. After that final carry in the 3rd quarter, he came out again and had more tape added to the wrap. Then he tried on a larger shoe. He tried jogging up and down the sidelines to get a feel for the ankle and the new shoe. And he never went back in the game.

Enter redshirt freshman RB Morgan Williams. Williams came out of high school a star, heavily recruited by some big names. He had set the career rushing record for Stark County in south central Ohio. His highlight reel looked like Rocket fans could expect great things immediately. But the big names had backed off.

Morgan Williams was struggling with academic issues. So he signed with Toledo. Then he sat out 2007 and worked on his grades. Morgan paid his own tuition in 2007 and worked acclimating himself to college life and the rigors of college studies. And he got eligible.

Williams came into Saturday's game against #25 Fresno State at a time when Toledo was clinging to a 24-20 lead and most of the 2nd half to go, knowing the running game was now on his shoulders. We caught up with Morgan Williams at Monday's media session and talked about his journey here, his efforts to get ready to play, and his performance Saturday night.

Williams began by saying "it's great to be playing at the college level. It was a rough time. Just had to hold it out the whole year, keep my head on football, keep doing what I was doing to keep my head in the books, and everything came through, and got back on the field." Discussing the adjustment to college, Williams said "it's more work, it's fast pace, maybe less work, but faster pace. In high school, you could take a couple days off, maybe wait to do something. Now, you have to do right away after they issue the assignment so you don't forget."

The hardest part was not being able to play. "I came to a couple games. I couldn't stand watching, so I was like ‘man, I just gotta get my books right, get back on the field'. I just thank God for giving me the blessings to keep my head in the books, and the coaches kept being on me, telling me ‘you gotta get the books and get back on the field.' I just fed into what they were telling me and it worked out good."

Williams work ethic in the classroom carried over into the weight room and the practice field. "I came to practice working every day, saw my name start moving up, and just kept working. That's all I know: hard work pays off."

Williams says the Rockets aren't underestimating upcoming opponent FIU (Florida International University, though they prefer the FIU moniker). "You can't underestimate anybody. We're just taking them like any other game. We've just got to come out and play hard every play, never take a play off."

Commenting on having his backup running back rush for 142 yards in ½ of play, Coach Tom Amstutz says "that's outstanding. That's hard to believe that. It says, #1, that our offensive line is doing their job. #2, Morgan Williams is a player that prepared and was ready for his chance and made the most of it. So those are good signs, that your offense is doing well, and that you're practicing the right way, that you have players that are ready to step in and take over is somebody gets out a little bit."

Morgan Williams showed a lot of potential out of high school. He was obviously a star. Williams also received a jolt when he couldn't play football for a year. Rather than fret over his situation, or transfer to a less demanding school or conference, he went to work. Morgan Williams applied himself to his books as he had to football for years. In the process, he got eligible and got back on the field. He may have also learned a tremendous life lesson. There's a long way to go before graduation, but the graphic design major ("I think I'm a pretty good artist") has taken the hardest steps of all…the first ones. Rocket fans should look forward to a brilliant career.

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