It's not particularly easy to replace a guy who rushed for 2,177 yards, 18 touchdowns and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting in 2013. To be clear, Boston College won't ask sophomore Myles Willis to do exactly that. Still, for the Eagles to continue making strides in the ACC under second-year coach Steve Addazio, Willis will need to fill NFL-bound running back Andre Williams' shoes as well as he can.
A three-star athlete in the class of 2013 (according to Rivals.com) out of Atlanta's Marist School, Willis received scholarship offers from Florida State, Wake Forest and Virginia, among others. He had originally committed to UCF before flipping to Boston College in July '12.
Addazio wasn't sure what he had in Willis, but it didn't take long to realize that the 5-foot-9, 192-pound former option quarterback could play.
“I didn’t have any high expectation because I really didn’t know a lot about Myles,’’ Addazio said. “Myles was committed, obviously, when I got here. I saw his tape and I saw he had skills.
“He’s explosive. He has ability, but his attitude and everything about him, you like guys that make you feel good. He’s an energy giver.’’
Willis was impossible to keep off the field during his freshman season, and the Eagles made liberal use of his talents. He returned kicks and averaged 23.6 yards per return. He caught a few passes, including a 52-yard score against Florida State on Sept. 28. He ran the ball out of the backfield, carrying 60 times for 346 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Williams.
Boston College could rely on Williams on virtually every down last year; he was as durable and consistent as any back in the country. For Willis to make an impact in 2014, he'll need to bulk up, but it seems as though he has the right mindset.
Tyler Rouse, a class of 2013 recruit out of Baldwinsville, N.Y., also showed promise as a freshman, but his upside doesn't seem to be as high as Willis'. And it will take time for this year's prospects to get fully acclimated. By that point, Willis may be securely entrenched in the starting role.
"I think the starting job is Myles Willis' to lose," BC Interruption editor Brian Favat said. "He'll be pushed by a young, talented group of freshman running backs including Jonathan Hilliman and Marcus Outlow, but Willis returns the most experience of any back on the roster after spelling Williams as a freshman."
Even though Williams is preparing for the draft and certainly has other things on his mind, he is still imparting wisdom to Willis. Advice from a Heisman finalist is never a bad thing.
Former Notre Dame receiver Bobby Brown, whom Williams met at the Walter Camp Player of the Year awards ceremony, knew who could help: Bill Thierfelder, sports psychologist and president of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. The weekend after the combine, Williams made the three-and-a-half hour drive from Atlanta, where he’s training and living with his older brother.
In a pair of two-hour sessions, Thierfelder coached Williams to “meet the ball with energy.” He practiced by catching racquetballs, since a smaller ball requires greater focus. He started juggling, too, a suggestion also made to him by an NFL running backs coach who called him after the combine. Williams is making the lessons learned from Thierfelder part of his BC legacy, too.
“I’m going to call you, and we need to talk about this,” Williams told freshman running back Myles Willis, when the former teammates ran into each other on campus Tuesday. “Really. It’s about actually seeing things, not just looking at them.”
Willis showed some of that vision as a freshman, but if Boston College hopes to get back to another bowl game, he'll likely need his numbers to take off in 2014.