Jamaal Williams came to BYU as a 17-year-old freshman in 2012. He wasn’t a big part of the offense for his first four games as a Cougar, but on Sept. 28, 2012 against Hawaii, he took 15 carries for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
He has been running over, through and around defenders ever since.
Now he’s BYU’s all-time leading rusher with 3,468 yards, besting Harvey Unga’s 3,455 yards.
Not only did he break the record, but he did so in a 28-21 double-overtime victory over SEC foe Mississippi State. Williams would’ve had every right to boast after the game, but that didn’t happen. The fun-loving, hip-hop-dancing running back with a big personality was the epitome of humility.
“I’m grateful to get it,” Williams said after the game. “But I have to give credit to all my linemen, tight ends and everyone who blocked for me in my career. Kudos to almost everyone out there — former linemen, linemen now. I’m grateful to get it. Honestly, I wish I could put them before my name, because you can’t do it without the line. You can’t do it without everybody and their effort. I just want to say thank you and I appreciate it.”
Perhaps what makes the moment all the more special is there was a chance Williams never would have made it back to Provo. After an injury-plagued junior season, Williams withdrew from school.
He sat out for an entire season, but returned to the team during spring ball this year, saying he came back to “finish what (he) started.”
But make no mistake about it — despite a year hiatus, Williams is a fan favorite. In pre-game warm-ups, the PA announcer introduces the starters one by one. Williams routinely receives the largest ovation from the crowd.
Once Williams broke the record against the Bulldogs, the student section tried to give him something to remember, unveiling a giant banner in his honor.
“I’m just grateful,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m on Taysom-level now. I saw (the banner) in the heat of the moment, but it hit a warm spot in my heart to see the numbers up and the banner. It made me smile, but you have to get back in the game and finish it. Thanks to all the fans. I know it takes tremendous effort to coordinate all of that.”
Williams is currently No. 2 in the country in rushing yards (942) and tied for No. 4 in the country in touchdowns (10). He’s also garnering legitimate attention from NFL writers, bloggers and scouts.
By this time next year, he’ll be a professional running back. But for now, he’s got work to finish in Provo.
The Cougars next travel north to take on the No. 14 Boise State Broncos. After that game, the team has a well-deserved bye week.
If head coach Kalani Sitake can navigate his Cougars to a win against the Broncos, BYU will be favored in each of its final four games. If chalk holds in those matchups, the Cougars could be entering bowl season with a 9-3 record, an incredible mark considering the tough schedule and new coaching staff.
The formula for success?
The Cougars are 4-0 on the season when Williams gets at least 26 carries. They’re 0-3 when he gets fewer. In his last three games (all BYU victories) he’s rushed for 525 yards.
Williams and the Cougars will aim to keep building momentum on Thursday, Oct. 20, against Boise State.