PROVO — The first game of the year is a chance for fans to finally witness the play of the hyped newcomers on the team. A couple of players who received a good share of hype prior to the season were defensive lineman Ezekial Ansah and true freshman running back Jamaal Williams.
Both players saw reps during the game — Ansah throughout the game during passing situations and Williams late in the game with BYU holding a big lead. Ansah provided three unassisted tackles of which two went for losses. Williams ran the ball six times for 17 yards.
Both players were noticeably excited about their respective involvement following Tuesday’s practice.
“It felt great being able to play out there with the coaches trusting you and being able to complete the assignments they give you,” Ansah said. “It’s always so fun playing in front of the fans at BYU. Being able to play in front of them even more — it’s a privilege and I love their support.”
Ansah made his presence known early — dropping Washington State running back Leon Brooks for a 5-yard loss on a screen pass. The play helped stunt WSU’s opening drive scoring bid on the team’s very first offensive possession.
Ansah isn’t exactly a newcomer to the team as a senior, but is relatively new to the game of football. He started playing only a couple of years ago and warranted plenty of playing time during kick coverage last season.
This year his role has been expanded to provide a pass-rushing presence when the defense goes with its nickel package. Although he did log time in that role last season, it was largely late in games with the outcome not in question.
“I love rushing the quarterback,” Ansah said. “It’s something I feel confident doing, but I also have a lot to improve on. It’s a lot of fun and I’m just thankful the coaches have confidence to play me in that role. I need to learn to defend the run better, but I’m so thankful just to be able to help the team in any way I can.”
For Williams, it was his first game as a Division I athlete — he got an incredible rush when running out on to the field for the first time.
“When I ran out of that tunnel I was excited,” Williams said. “I ran out jumping all up and down — I didn’t even play (at first), but I was excited to be there on the sidelines with so many people (there.) I’ve never had so many people (watch me play), not even in my championship game in high school. When I saw those people out there smiling and having a good time it was exciting.”
Williams did enter the game late and saw a good amount of work. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall and quarterback Riley Nelson commented on how they liked his approach to his first chances to run the ball.
Williams is happy with his first game performance and is eager to be even more involved with the offense as the season progresses.
“I just got to keep working hard and show them that I deserve more playing time as we keep on going,” Williams said. “I just need to keep working hard.”
Williams is doing well with fitting in off the field as well as on. He enrolled at BYU as a 17-year-old non-LDS minority, very much an untypical profile for your typical BYU student.
“It’s okay right now,” Williams said about fitting in at BYU. “I mostly just stay (inside) studying my homework and studying my plays. When I come out most people are friendly when I’m playing basketball and stuff like that, so it’s all right. I still have my mom coming down every week, so she stops by and cleans my room for me I’m not used to cleaning my room, but she comes out to help me out and that’s why I love her.”
Williams’ roommate is fellow true freshman Dylan Collie who has done well in helping Williams acclimate to his change in culture.
“He is a great (inspiration to me) and a great motivator,” Williams said about Collie. “I mostly look to him (along with) Kyle Van Noy, Joe (Sampson), Ross (Apo), Cody (Hoffman), Michael Alisa, (David) Foote and a lot of them Kyle told me before the first game to not get discouraged if I don’t get a lot of plays in that I’m just 17 that if I work hard that my time will come.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BrandonCGurney