With BYU’s all-time rushing record securely under his belt and a load of pro potential, senior running back Jamaal Williams is in the discussion of greatest BYU running backs of all time.
Williams set the record late in the double-overtime Homecoming win against Mississippi State. In front of a raucous crowd, Williams rushed for 76 yards, putting his career total at 3,468 yards, just over Harvey Unga’s 3,455 yards.
But even with the record, Williams remained humble and team-focused.
“Getting to the record is cool, I like it, but it’s not my first priority,” Williams said after BYU’s double-overtime win over Mississippi State. “Still winning games, still wanting us to have a winning season.”
The Cougars certainly did.
BYU finished 9-4 and defeated Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl 24-21.
Williams left everything out on the field for the Cougars, including his pre-game dance moves.
“Jamaal is a fun guy,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “And a good leader as well.”
The new head coach is proud of his running back for how much he stepped up since coming back this season. Williams withdrew from BYU in Aug. 2015 — just after the Cougars started fall camp — facing a one-game suspension for his second violation of team rules. There was speculation that Williams wouldn’t return to Provo for his senior year, but not only did he return, he became an example on and off the field.
“There is no secret going into the season that we needed Jamaal to be ready and that we needed to put a lot of the load on him,” Sitake said.
As a team captain this season, Williams was sharing his knowledge and football IQ with other players constantly. Washington State transfer Squally Canada has become good friends with Williams and learned a lot from him since becoming his backup.
“He doesn’t go down by one person,” Canada said. “He makes one man miss; he doesn’t let the first guy get him. So when I go in there, I’m like ‘okay I got to be like Jamaal. I got to be like Jamaal and Marshawn Lynch.’ Because those are my guys. So if Jamaal doesn’t get tackled by one guy, I‘m not going to let one guy tackle me. So he plays a major role in my success.”
The California native is unique to BYU in that he is not a member of the LDS Church. But Williams has a strong faith in God and attributes his success to his Christian beliefs.
“I worked hard, I believed, I prayed,” Williams said. “I expect things to happen like this when you do things the right way. When you’re down in your low times, when you’re going through your struggles, all you got to do is pray to God. Do it the right way. Stay loyal, stay faithful. If you’ve got a good support staff behind you — family members and everything — keep them close because those are the ones who believe in you from the beginning.”
Williams heeds his own advice. His mother Nicolle has attended nearly every game he’s ever played.
“Here at BYU? I think she’s made all of them,” Williams said of his mother’s attendance. “Pretty much out of all my years playing football, she’s probably missed three or four, probably for work or her being sick.”
Next for Williams is preparation for the NFL draft. Williams has received national attention for his numerous successes in Provo and all signs point to him playing on Sundays in the future. Depending on the analyst, Williams’ draft stock is somewhere between the second and fifth round.
After the Poinsettia Bowl, all eyes were back on Williams. He took 26 carries for 210 yards and a touchdown, leading the Cougars to the victory and was named the Offensive MVP. Instead of taking the spotlight, he hauled his lineman on stage with him to share the glory.
During the post-game press conference, he wasn’t focused on his accomplishments, but on what everyone else has done for him.
“I knew from my trials and everything that by working hard one day God would give me a blessing,” Williams said. “Coach Sitake and all the coaches, they are that blessing. I’m just grateful to be able to play under them for this year and to give them 100 percent. I’m grateful to have (Sitake) and the coaching staff.”
Williams leaves BYU football with 3,901 career rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns.