When Eldon ‘The Phantom’ Fortie set BYU’s single-game rushing record with 272 yards against George Washington in Provo, the United States hadn’t gone through the Civil Rights Movement. LaVell Edwards was just 32-years old. Ty Detmer wasn’t even born yet.
The year was 1962. Now, 54 years later, Fortie’s record is no more.
Senior running back Jamaal Williams took 30 carries for a school-record 286 yards, leading the Cougars to a 55-53 victory over the Toledo Rockets Friday night.
Head coach Kalani Sitake, who picked up his second career win, praised Williams after the game.
“I remember being a fan and watching Marshall Faulk do the same types of things,” Sitake said. “It was one of those times in history where I was proud to be a witness of it … and obviously I’m really proud of Jamaal. His history and his career has been unbelievable here at BYU. I’m glad he was able to get that game.”
Williams is now just 227 yards shy of Harvey Unga’s career-rushing record. He has an opportunity to become BYU’s all-time leading rusher at Homecoming against Mississippi State on Oct. 14.
But Williams wasn’t interested in personal accolades. His opening statement was a “thank you” to his teammates.
“I have to give credit to everyone blocking for me tonight,” Williams said. “Linemen, fullbacks, wide receivers — I am grateful for them. Taysom (Hill) did a great job tonight too on the play action and taking his opportunities. We worked together as a team.”
Williams was asked again how he felt breaking a record that was more than a half-century old.
Again, he was the epitome of humility.
“I’m grateful for it,” Williams said. “But I just couldn’t do it without everyone blocking. It goes out to all of them. This record is for the whole team.”
The Cougars amassed 586 total yards — their highest total of the season — and Williams accounted for 48 percent of them.
He is also the No. 2 rusher in the nation, with 703 yards. He trails San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, but it’s worth noting the difference in competition.
Williams got his yards against Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia and Toledo. Pumphrey got his 750 yards against New Hampshire, California, Northern Illinois and South Alabama.
Williams withdrew from BYU at the beginning of last season. There was plenty of speculation he’d transfer to another university, but Williams was quick to dismiss those notions.
At the start of spring ball, Williams said he came back to BYU to “finish what I’ve started.”
He’s well on his way. He’s garnering NFL attention and has become the most important player on the Cougar offense.
Taysom Hill has shared the backfield with Williams for the better part of the last five years and recognized the significance of Williams’ night.
“It’s been so much fun playing with Jamaal,” Hill said. “I couldn’t be happier for it. He deserves it. He was such a fan for us when we were playing all last season. He deserves all that he’s gotten.”
The defensive players knew it was special too.
“Jamaal is a heck of a player,” said sophomore linebacker Adam Pulsipher, who started in place of the injured Butch Pau’u. “We see it every day and it was great to see it today. Him breaking the record was quite a sight.”
Williams also tied a BYU single-game record with five touchdowns. It was a game for the history books, but the Cougars have more pressing issues at hand.
The team is now facing three games in a 12-day span, which begins Oct. 8 with a trip to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.
The Cougars and Spartans will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT. The game can be viewed on ABC.