USA Today Sports/Snook

The file on Washington State running back James Williams

THE MAN WHO was No. 3 on the depth chart a month ago is now widely viewed as a prime component in Washington State's quest to reclaim a season off to an uncertain start.

It's amazing what a 126-yard rushing day in a pass-happy offense can do for a guy. James Williams' coming-out-party against Idaho two weeks ago (he averaged 9 yards per carry) was so head turning that the state's largest newspaper fired up a fabulous feature story on his remarkable backstory the other day.

In so many ways, though, his path to Pullman is unchartered territory for many fans.

For example, did you know that besides WSU, he held offers from Cal and Arizona, and USC was dangling a ride if he would come to a Trojan camp the summer before his senior season. 

And oh, by the way, he was homeless for a time.

Given Williams’ gaudy performance against Idaho, expect him to play a big role Saturday evening at 6:30 when the 1-2 Cougars host the 2-2 Oregon Ducks (Pac-12 Networks). If he can come close to replicating in a Pac-12 game what he did against Idaho, rest assured his story will start to gain more traction.


Measurables: 5-11, 199 pounds

Hometown: Burbank, Calif.

High School: Burbank High

Greatest strength: It’s up for debate given his burst, vision, ball security and balance, but what impressed most against Idaho was his ability to gain yards after contact. Jason Gesser last week went so far as to predict nearly half of Williams’ ground yards at season’s end would come from YAC.

Coach's comment: WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro calls Williams the most athletic player he's ever recruited. Given the gems Mastro has run the recruiting point on for Washington State and previously at Nevada, that’s a statement worth noting.

Why he chose WSU: "I felt like they wanted me more than Cal and Arizona did," he told

The year that put him on the map: As a prep junior in 2013, Williams rushed for 1,503 yards and 22 touchdowns while hauling in 491 yards worth of passes and five more scores. His 2,350 all-purpose yards set the Burbank High school record.

The lost senior season: Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of his senior year. He had already committed verbally to WSU and the Cougars assured him they would stand by their scholarship offer. Williams, meanwhile, attacked his rehabilitation and healed well ahead of schedule. “Please believe I’m going to work harder than ever and I will come back stronger than ever and get to Wazzu and ball,” Williams told shortly after his injury.

His first year at WSU: Williams redshirted last season as a true freshman but he still captured a piece of the spotlight during WSU’s 9-4 campaign.’s Thursday Night Football practice reports last season were chock full of Williams’ exploits, as he was making guys miss and drawing oohs and ahs from the practice crowd. He also had a number of plays against the No. 1 defense that had WSU coaches quietly smiling to themselves.

Overcoming far more than injury:  Growing up in a rough section of Toledo, Ohio, Williams was exposed to murder as a little kid – two people he knew were killed.  After his family moved to California, they were homeless for nine months when James was in middle school. living in a car while his parents struggled to find jobs. The outlook brightened Williams' dad found work and the family was able to move into an apartment in Burbank. Things also improved for Williams in classroom, as he went from Ds and Fs in middle school to becoming an  honor student at Burbank High. 

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