BYU star running back Jamaal Williams grateful for opportunity to run track

Published: Saturday, April 26 2014 7:25 p.m. MDT

BYU football running back Jamaal Williams participates in the 4x100-meter relay at the Robison Invitational at the Clarence F. Robison Track and Field Complex Saturday, April 26, 2014 in Provo.

Hugh Carey, Deseret News

PROVO — There are not a lot of college football coaches that would allow their top running back to run track on the side.

But on a rainy, stormy Saturday afternoon at the BYU track, Jamaal Williams, who rushed for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns last season, competed for the Cougars in the 4x100 at the Robison Invitational before a sparse crowd and little fanfare.

When it comes to letting his players try other sports, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t take the decision lightly.

It required Mendenhall placing trust in the track coaches, Williams achieving academic success, and “me bugging him” (as Williams explained), to make it happen.

Williams, who will be a junior on the football team this fall, ran track in high school and has always longed to compete on the collegiate level.

Now he is.

“I wanted to do it since before I even came here,” Williams said. “I wanted to keep on running if I could. But Coach Mendenhall didn’t really like track because Adam Hine did it and he hurt himself.”

That’s right — two years ago, Hine, a running back/kick return specialist, suffered an injury as a high jumper.

Because of that, “I think (Mendenhall) just put a big ‘X’ on football players running track again,” Williams said. “I’m glad that he gave me an opportunity to do it, especially when it comes to grades, too."

More than anything, Williams views being a member of the track team as a reward for his hard work in the classroom.

“One thing about Coach Mendenhall is, he’ll let you do it, but have to have responsibility for other stuff, such as grades," Williams said. "If he didn’t care about grades, then a lot of us would be out here. It would be easy. This is like a reward for having good grades and working hard in the classroom. He really rewards you for doing things he tells you to do and staying at the expectations he wants you to be at, then he gives you the opportunity to do what you want to do.

"There are a couple of dudes (on the football team) who should be running track, and I’m trying to help them with it. I keep telling them if they get the grades right, ‘You can do whatever you want, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.’ … I feel more accomplished and grateful being out here just because I’m out here with good grades, not just being out here because I’m fast and talented.”

Of course, being fast and talented helps, too.

Two weeks ago, after the conclusion of spring football, Williams started working out with the track team.

Williams made his debut Friday, running the 100 meters — clocking in at 11.10. Saturday, in the 4-by-100, he handed off the baton to Tyler Sorensen during the second leg, and it didn’t exactly go as smoothly as he would have liked.

“(The baton) was slippery,” Williams said. “I’ve just got to put it there. In all of my years of running track, this was the first time I had a handoff in the rain. … It just comes with practice and everything, getting familiar with it again. I feel like a freshman again, playing my first game. I did all right. I felt like I could have done a lot better. I don’t let it get to me. I’ll come back and be better next time.”

Helping pave the way for Williams to join the track team was track and field assistant coach Kyle Grossarth, who had worked with Williams the previous two years as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the BYU athletic department.

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