PROVO — First-year BYU running backs coach Mark Atuaia knows a team can never have too many running backs on the roster.
“We have eight right now,” said Atuaia, a former Cougar ball-carrier himself.
Eight should be enough for the BYU ground attack, especially considering that one of those running backs is sophomore Jamaal Williams, who turned the ripe old age of 18 last spring.
In 13 games last season as a 17-year-old true freshman, Williams rushed 166 times for 775 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Despite his accomplishments, Williams doesn’t consider himself a veteran.
“I still see myself as a player just coming up, learning from the older players,” he said. “My role is not to overpower those who are not playing. I follow the leaders already. When my time comes, it will come. It’s not right now, though.”
Williams said he put on five pounds during the offseason (and weighs 200 pounds), but he wants to get bigger.
“I’m still a little pipsqueak,” Williams said, smiling. “The freshmen are bigger than me. That’s a shame. I take it as a challenge to work harder.”
Williams is also focused on being a more well-rounded player and improving on his blocking and receiving skills.
“Jamaal is working really hard. Although rushing the ball is one component of his game, I’m glad he’s working on the others,” Atuaia said. “I’m happy that he’s working really hard to perfect other parts of his craft. I think he’s on his way to doing that. His hands are going to be a big part of his game. I’m really happy that Jamaal is seeing that there’s more to it than just running the ball. Those other parts, he’s working on pass blocking, run blocking, recognizing what defenses are doing — all those things you tend to pick up on as you progress with age and the time you spend in college football. He’s learning a little bit more about why things happen the way they do, and I’m pleased that he’s doing that.”
Meanwhile, senior Michael Alisa is still trying to overcome an arm injury and is not participating in contact drills in fall camp. Alisa broke his arm against Hawaii last September, then suffered a setback when he re-injured his arm in the summer.
Alisa said weeks ago he “high-fived somebody and it just ached like crazy.” He decided to get it checked out by doctors.
“They X-rayed me and the decision was made to do some hardware removal and put in a new plate,” Alisa explained. “The inside bone was good-to-go, but the outside bone needed some reinforcement. It was bothering me lifting for most of the summer.”
“Right now, it’s just rest, rest,” offensive coordinator Robert Anae said of Alisa’s situation. “Hopefully everything gets well for him to go full speed. Right now, he can’t full go.”
Alisa had 58 carries for 222 yards and one touchdown before his injury.
Though Alisa is limited in what he can do, Williams said Alisa is “still there in the room watching film with us. I enjoy him all the time, even though he’s not on the field to contribute. He’s still doing his part right now. We still have everybody else, too. We’re just helping each other out to make ourselves better as running backs.”
In addition to Williams and Alisa, the Cougars appear to be deep at running back with Paul Lasike, Adam Hine, Algernon Brown, AJ Moore, Nate Carter and Iona Pritchard.
“A good surprise with us is Algernon Brown,” Atuaia said. “He just got back from his mission. I’m a little surprised with his fitness and his conditioning. He’s helping us take the load off some of the running backs.”
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