PROVO — The locker-room door at BYU's practice facility swung open Tuesday night, and true freshman running back Jamaal Williams emerged.
Bundled up in winter attire, including a Peruvian-style pink hat, adorned with a "Y" logo, covering his ears, Williams was quickly surrounded by a cadre of reporters who were waiting to talk to him.
Williams may or may not have been making a fashion statement, but he's let his play on the field speak for itself this season.
The 17-year-old from Fontana, Calif., burst onto the scene midway through the year after Michael Alisa suffered an injury against Hawaii. In that game, Williams ran for a career-high 155 yards in a 47-0 victory over the Warriors.
With one game remaining, Williams has rushed for 744 yards — already the most rushing yards by a true freshman in school history, eclipsing the previous mark set by Ronney Jenkins in 1996 — and 11 touchdowns. He has also caught 25 passes for 288 yards.
This week, not only has Williams been experiencing his first round of final exams in college, but he's also preparing for his first bowl game when the Cougars take on San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 20.
"I can't wait for it, especially since it's in California," Williams said. "It's not too far from home."
Williams will have plenty of friends and family who will make the two-hour drive from Fontana to San Diego for the game.
"My mom told me she has around 62 tickets that she bought for everybody," he said. "Well, not for everybody. She made them pay, too."
Williams has made opposing defenses pay this season with his elusive, physical running style. That's why BYU's last two opponents, San Jose State and New Mexico State, stacked the box in an attempt to slow him down. He ran for 62 yards in each of those games.
San Diego State, which ranks No. 35 in the nation in rushing defense, will also try to stop the run first against BYU, which means the Aztecs will likely focus on keeping Williams from making plays.
"I take it as a personal challenge," Williams said. "I'm just grateful that they do consider me as a threat. It makes me even more of a great player when I can do things even when they try to stop me, that I can still be successful and help out the team. We're going to run hard, north and south running, and bring them the pain before they try to bring it to us."
Although the vast majority of his 151 rushing attempts this season have come since the end of September, Williams said his body has held up well to the punishment.
"I feel pretty good right now. My legs are fresh," he said. "I'm anxious to play in the game. It's my first bowl game, so it's very exciting."
Williams, a first-team All-CIF selection last year, was also recruited by Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah and San Diego State. The Aztecs, in fact, were the first team to offer him a scholarship.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said Williams will figure prominently in the game plan against San Diego State.
"He's a great player and has a great feel. He is a guy that needs whacks," Doman said. "He needs to get a bunch of touches and as he gets the touches he gets a better feel for what the defense is doing. He's more effective as the game goes along."
At BYU, Williams has popularized the shovel pass, having picked up huge chunks of yardage with that play this season, including a 39-yard touchdown against Georgia Tech.
Being a freshman, Williams is still learning, of course. In the Cougars' loss at San Jose State, Spartan defender Keith Smith hurdled a cut-block attempt by Williams. Smith flew over Williams, blindsided quarterback Riley Nelson and caused a fumble that sealed BYU's defeat.
"I'm not cutting as much, because I can see what happens when I cut at the wrong time, at the wrong place," Williams said.
Still, as far as the BYU offense is concerned, Williams' emergence this season has been at the right time.
He just didn't expect to play such a big role for the Cougars so soon.
"I expected to play a little bit. This is more of a surprise," Williams said of his freshman season. "I'm just grateful I got this opportunity to do what I'm doing now, to get as many carries and touchdowns and just the opportunity to play running back and start, too. I'm grateful I got this time as a freshman and I didn't have to wait as long as I thought I would."
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