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BYU football: Mom motivates Cougars' Jamaal Williams

Published August 28, 2013 9:12 am

BYU football • Running back ran for frosh-record 755 yards and 12 TDs last year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Having been requested to make the trek up the stairs from the locker room to BYU's football office lobby for an interview almost every time there has been availability, sophomore running back Jamaal Williams has regaled reporters with stories the past month about how he first learned about BYU, how he has studied the exploits of former Cougar rushing greats Harvey Unga, Curtis Brown and Luke Staley, and how he occasionally attends the program's religion-focused Friday night firesides although he is not Mormon and doesn't plan to be.

The 18-year-old phenom from Fontana, Calif., has pretty much talked about everything and anything, including his goals to avoid a sophomore slump — 1,000 rushing yards and more than 12 touchdowns, which he scored last year — and how much he has enjoyed preparing to play Saturday's season-opening foe, Virginia, this week because classes haven't started yet.

"Oh, hallelujah," Williams said about that freedom. "That's what I am talkin' about. I wish every week was like that. This is wonderful, like the best week of all time for me. To actually get ready with a whole week of football and no school is the dream."

See why Williams is already a media favorite? He might already be the best quote on the team.

And he rarely, if ever, lets a conversation go by without a shout-out to his mother, Nicolle Williams, whom he says is the major reason why he set three true freshman rushing records —166 carries, 755 yards, 12 touchdowns — in his first year at BYU.

"I want to be a great man for her and for me," he said of the former UCLA sprinter who insisted he look at all his options coming out of Summit High School, and not just schools with names he recognized such as Oregon, UCLA and Boise State.

"Coach [Mark] Weber came to my school," Williams said. "That's the first time I ever heard of BYU, I thought it was a D-II school. I didn't know what BYU was. I was playing the [video] game NCAA 13 and I was like, 'Oh snap, BYU is a D-I school. I didn't know."

Eventually, BYU asked him to make a visit to Provo for Junior Day and he was hesitant at first, until his mom told him to "just go and see if you like it."

"So we came up here, and I liked it, and I decided to come back because they were straightforward with it," he said. "They were like, 'We want you. If you come up here [on an official visit], we will offer you.' And they did exactly that. I respected them for doing it because I knew for sure that they wanted me for me, and not for [anything] else."

Then there was another hurdle to overcome: Williams' uncertainty about BYU's honor code, which not only forbids alcohol, drugs and premarital sex, but includes grooming guidelines. Again, mom was there with some reasonable advice.

"I was a little upset about it when they first told me about it, when they were recruiting me," Williams said. "Then my mom said, 'Why are you upset about it? That's the way you should be living, no matter what religion you are. That's the way you want to be in life.'"

So Williams arrived on campus at the ripe old age of 17, and got his first big shot when featured running back Mike Alisa suffered a fractured arm in the fifth game of the 2012 season, against Hawaii. Williams ran for 155 yards and two TDs in relief of Alisa, and has been the man ever since.

"Jamaal is good to the point where you don't notice him. You just expect it," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He has just been consistent, steady and good the entire camp."

Williams said Monday that his mother has secured eight tickets for Saturday's game, and is still looking for more. Rest assured, the usual large contingent of jswaggdaddy (his Twitter handle) supporters will be in Charlottesville.

"All the love goes to Mama," Williams said of his success and support. "I love her for all the effort she puts into coming to see me play, and for [her support of] the whole team. She really loves BYU."

And he does too — after some convincing, of course. —

Opening numbers

BYU running back Jamaal Williams' first season:

• Set three BYU true freshman rushing records with 166 carries, 755 yards and 12 TDs

• Named to 2012 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team

• Had most BYU individual single-game rushing yards, 155 vs. Hawaii, since 2007

• Scored 4 touchdowns at Ga. Tech (3 rushing, 1 receiving) —

BYU at Virginia

O Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

TV • ESPNU