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BYU football: No sophomore slump for Jamaal Williams

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) celebrates a touchdown as BYU hosts Idaho State, college football at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday November 16, 2013.

By Jay Drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Dec 24 2013 09:41AM
Updated Dec 27, 2013 04:40PM

San Francisco • For a player who had done all he could in the offseason to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, it was not the start BYU running back Jamaal Williams envisioned.

In the Cougars’ season-opener at Virginia, Williams let a pass from Taysom Hill slip through his hands and into the hands of the Cavaliers’ Anthony Harris. The mistake led to Virginia’s game-winning touchdown, and left Williams devastated, despite the fact that he had kept the Cougars in the game by rushing 33 times for 144 yards.

"That one was tough to forget," he said a few weeks later.

But Williams’ recovery from that miscue, and the way he bounced back from a severe hit against Utah in the third game that caused a concussion, some scary moments on the field and an overnight stay in the hospital, has been remarkable.

Sophomore slump? Not a chance.

In Friday’s Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Washington’s Bishop Sankey will deservedly get the lion’s share of attention. After all, Sankey is the third-leading rusher in the country, averaging 147.9 yards per game. He rushed for 1,775 yards, breaking the school record for a single season.

But Williams put together a great season as well, despite missing most of the second half of the Utah game and all of the Middle Tennessee State game. He had just 14 carries in BYU’s fifth game, against Utah State, as coaches eased him back. into the lineup.

The injury probably didn’t keep him from reaching his goal of 1,500 yards, but it certainly didn’t help.

"I just try to play my game and just admire other running backs and how they do it," Williams said of the comparisons to Sankey that will come Friday. "He’s a great running back who goes out there and runs hard and does what he does best. I am just going to go out there and do me and not worry about what other running backs do."

The 6-foot, 200-pounder from Fontana, Calif., rushed for 1,202 yards, the sixth-best single-season total in school history, with one game left to play. And he did it in a year when another BYU player, Hill, rushed for 1,211 yards. They became the first duo at BYU to rush for more than 1,000 yards each in a season.

"I am a little surprised that I rushed for as many yards as I did," Hill said. "I am not surprised that Jamaal rushed for that. … He has had a really good season."

Halfway through his career — unless he leaves early to chase his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL — Williams already ranks 10th on BYU’s career rushing yardage list, with 1,977. He needs 64 in the bowl game to pass Ronney Jenkins for ninth.

Harvey Unga’s 3,455 yards is the standard, meaning Williams is on track to easily become the most prolific back ever at BYU, if he stays healthy and stays around.

He’s not satisfied, however. Williams said he would give himself a B or a B+ grade this season. During fall camp, he talked about becoming a better blocker. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said he accomplished the goal, and also became a better pass-catcher, with 18 grabs for 125 yards.

"Yeah, blocking is second nature now," Williams said. "I enjoy it now and I am getting better all the time. … I have no problem with blocking any more. I haven’t perfected it, but I got more comfortable with it, and now it is one of my hobbies."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay

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