PROVO — Jamaal Williams donned a pair of those stylish oversized glasses, and a broad-bill hat covered his head. It was almost like he was hiding his face from cameras at BYU’s football media day this past week.
But nothing shut off the neon smile of this BYU junior running back. He hid from no one, and when he spoke, as is his tradition, he exuded enthusiasm, hope and the confidence of a Navy SEAL.
He’ll need it this season.
Just moments before, his offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, told a gaggle of reporters in Studio C at the BYU Broadcasting Building that Williams would break BYU’s career rushing record of 3,455 yards held by Harvey Unga. It wasn’t a guess but a projection.
“I’ve already apologized to Harvey because that record is going down,” said Anae.
This means Williams, who gained 1,233 yards in 12 games last fall, would need 1,448 to pass Unga this fall. That is more than 100 yards a game. He’d have to pass nine of BYU’s greatest rushers, including Luke Staley, Lakei Heimuli, Jamal Willis, Curtis Brown and Unga.
I was among the first to get to Williams that Monday as he sat at an interview table in the giant lobby. When informed Anae expected him to become BYU's all-time leader by the end of the year, he didn’t blink a lid.
“I just heard it,” he said. “I’m happy he said it because it gives me a challenge. He knows I’m up for anything and if he said we’re breaking the record, we’re breaking it this year,” said Wiliams.
Anae is not prone to idle talk. He rarely scares up the bats in the media belfry. This time he did. Why?
Williams is talented enough. It has to be what he’s seen with an offensive line that had major growing pains the past three years. It also might be Anae feels added receiver speed might stretch defenses that are already focused on the feet of quarterback Taysom Hill.
Anae should know this run thing. He blocked for Heimuli, and he coached the No. 1 and 2 all-time leaders: Unga (3,455, 36 TDs) and Brown (3,221, 31 TDs). Before returning to BYU in 2013, he coached the NCAA’s No. 1 rusher at Arizona in the talented Ka’Deem Carey, who had 1,929 rushing yards in 2012.
Anae believes he can keep Williams fresh with the use of Al Brown and Paul Lasike as running mates.
But this confidence has to weigh heavily on these two factors: Better blocking and more effective use of the spread option. Plus, there are no road trips to Utah, Notre Dame or Wisconsin on the schedule.
BYU’s offensive line has more combined starts than any group returning in the NCAA. The 2013 growing pains adapting to Anae’s zone blocking, increased conditioning requirements, injuries and inexperience may — just may — be behind this group.
Then this: Head coach Bronco Mendenhall spent spring practice and the offseason working with the offensive line. It was mainly to establish a tougher culture. In other words, he pounded into these linemen how to be givers instead of takers, punchers instead of punching bags.
“They’re very mean. I like mean linemen,” said Williams.
A year ago, Williams said BYU’s offense, including himself, played nervous, unsure, hesitant and without a lot of confidence. It was evident in the opener at Virginia. “The linemen were timid and nervous.”
He doesn’t see that happening in 2014 — from himself especially. “I’m grown. I’m 208 (pounds) and I’d like to get to 212 or 215. I’m not as hyper as I used to be. It’s just me growing up, me getting into my grown man body.”
As for the 90-plus starts among the returning linemen, Williams believes that can only help in the upcoming season.
“It’s always good to get the backups into the rotation,” said Williams. “You want everybody to be great. You don’t want the productivity of the game to go down. You want the intensity to stay the same or even go up when a reserve comes in a game. Mostly it's just being given more reps so when they come in, they aren’t timid.”
Williams said this team will enter fall camp and the opener at Connecticut with a completely different mindset and confidence than witnessed at Virginia a year ago.
He said there isn’t even a comparison in terms of readiness. Where there was a lot of guessing at Charlottesville, there will be reaction and more polished confidence at Hartford.
“We have a great opportunity to start off against Connecticut and then go to Texas. We want to make the most of it,” he said.
Now we all know that June and July chatter is filed with hype. It’s a time when everyone is undefeated and optimism blooms like dandelions.
But the gauntlet has been thrown down for young Williams.
The time will come when he’ll have to take off the big glasses and hat and replace them with a helmet and pads. Then, real work for the record begins.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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