PROVO — Jamaal Williams is a lot of things at BYU.
He’s as popular as a ’60s rock star. He’ll likely end up the school’s all-time leading rusher, surpassing Harvey Unga before he’s through playing football for the Cougars. He’s a natural born leader on the field, an enthusiastic ball of energy. He’s tough, unafraid of contact and he’s blessed with natural God-given speed.
And now, he will be a college track sprinter.
This will come to focus this weekend when Williams is expected to run a leg in the 4X100 meters in the Robison Invitational track meet at BYU. If one wants to see this event, you ought to be seated about 1 p.m., and if you’re lucky, it won’t be raining.
“We’re hoping he has a great experience,” BYU track coach Ed Eyestone told reporters. “He’s going to take it one day at a time and see how it goes.”
Williams is certainly talented enough to be a Division I sprinter — if he worked on it full-time year around. To come off the football team after spring practice and score points would be a challenge.
“We want to do what’s best for Jamaal, the BYU football team and the track team. It’s a win-win situation,” Eyestone told a CougarNation audience on BYUtv.
Williams certainly carries the right DNA.
His mother Nicole was a sprinter at UCLA — and a good one. His sister Jaela just ran a 13.97 time in the 100-meter hurdles, the No. 3 time in California and is on the nation’s sixth-ranked 4X100 relay team.
Jamaal ran track in high school and wasn’t too shabby. He ran a 10.8 time in the 100 meters and 48 seconds for 400. He ran the 100, 200, 400 and both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
It isn’t unusual for Division I track programs to look to other sports for athletes, especially sprinters. San Diego State does it all the time. The Aztecs field a steady diet of wide receivers and sprinters in their track program, as does Arizona State.
At BYU, not only Williams, but receiver turned defensive back and converted back to receiver Michael Davis may be one of the fastest football players on Bronco Mendenhall’s squad — having posted a 10.58-second clocking in the 100 and 21.4 in the 200 meters in high school.
Most likely Williams will make his debut in the relay. If he lines up in a heat of the 100 meters, it will be very interesting.
Williams’ challenge will be twofold. First, he’s been weight training for football, adding lean muscle fiber to help protect himself and enhance his football performance. I’m not saying he’s muscle bound and it will be counterproductive, but most successful sprinters have thinner, more efficient bodies.
Second, the starting blocks — it’s an art form and one of the great keys to being successful in the 100 meters. Any wasted motion out of the blocks could cost valuable tenths of a second.
Here comes the has-been, back-in-the-day reference.
About a hundred pounds ago, back when dinosaurs roamed Utah, I ran the 100-yard dash as a team captain at Provo High. I wasn’t great but scored points in region, once ran a 9.9 with a hurricane at my back at Lehi and I was pretty good out of the blocks — a lot of it anticipation.
The day of my great humiliation came at the Snow College Invitational my sophomore year. In a heat of the 100-yard dash, I lined up two lanes away from my idol at the time, a senior at Granite High named Golden Richards.
When the gun sounded, I shot out of the blocks confident as a peacock on a spring day. Richards, however, was at least two and a half strides ahead of me and smoked the field. He remains the fastest sprinter out of the blocks I’ve ever seen in person to this day.
The start is important. It immediately sets the tone, outlines the work and creates chargers and chasers out of the rest of the field.
Williams knows all this. So does his mom. And sister.
This Williams clan, well it’s in the genes.
It will be interesting to see how he tackles this challenge. Running track, if he avoids an injury like a pulled hamstring, can only help his training in the offseason and give him confidence for his junior season in pads.
On a day late in April, it’s a spectacle worth seeing.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].