Mature Williams on pace to set BYU rushing record Friday
PROVO, Utah (AP) Jamaal Williams can be found on the field before every BYU game wearing oversized pink Beats headphones, smiling and dancing during warmups . It's a scene Nicolle Thompson-Williams couldn't quite envision from her son a few years ago.
The maturation of Williams has led to this moment as the senior running back is currently No. 2 in the nation with 866 rushing yards and on pace to break the school career record against Mississippi State on Friday.
''He did not dance in high school,'' Thompson-Williams said with a laugh. ''Everything he's doing now, he didn't do that in high school. We had to find him a prom date. He was just (into) video games. He never went out. He never was a dancer. He was shy. He was to himself. ... It's awesome to seem him blossom like a flower right in front of your eyes.''
This moment almost never came as Williams sat out all of 2015 due to personal reasons and a knee injury that cut short his 2014 season after seven games. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder had the option to transfer as the future of BYU was unknown with a first-time head coach in Kalani Sitake and a first-time collegiate offensive coordinator in Ty Detmer.
But Williams wanted to stay loyal to the program that believed in him as a running back out of high school while other schools wanted him to play linebacker.
Williams certainly isn't a braggart, but he is confident and the school rushing record has been in his sights since running for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He imagined this moment while sitting out last year.
''Yeah, because I worked hard for it,'' said Williams, who still spends plenty of time playing video games. ''I did everything right. I worked hard. I believed. I prayed. I expect things to happen like this when you do things the right way when you're in your low times. When you're going through your struggles, all you've got to do is pray to God, do it the right way, stay loyal, stay faithful. If you have a good support staff behind you, family members and everything, keep them close because they're the ones who believed in you from the beginning. Just keep them close and you just do what you need to do.''
Loyalty means a lot to Williams and his family. He, Thompson-Williams, his sister Jaela and grandmother all have matching tattoos of a loyalty symbol. Thompson-Williams lives in California, but has attended every one of his college games.
That mentality kept Williams in Provo while others suggested he look for a bigger opportunity. It kept him committed in 2012 after Oregon made a late recruiting push to steal him from the Cougars.
''Loyalty, to him, is everything,'' Thompson-Williams said. ''Once he says he's going to do something, he's going to finish it.''
Williams has been finishing runs on a weekly basis this year. He averaged 206 rushing yards in the last three games and set a school record with 286 against Toledo. He has the speed to run away from defenders and the strength to power through tackles to go along with vision and patience. A new pro-style offense has also helped.
Having the genes of a track star doesn't hurt, either. Thompson-Williams ran track at UCLA and was roommates with three-time Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers. Jaela, the more boisterous sibling, is a hurdler at UNLV.
Unlike mom, Jaela can't make every game, but she'll be there Friday wearing the same blue and white tutu she wore when BYU upset Texas 41-7 in 2014.
''Everything happening is kind of like a movie,'' said Jaela. ''(Last year) was really tough. That's what people don't understand, why this year is so emotional for us. They just never went through a step back like last year.''
Jaela, 19, reminisced about the journey to this point, remembering Thompson-Williams sprinting down the sideline as Williams ran for a touchdown in Pop Warner. She also shared a video on Instagram showing her brother saying, ''My name is Jamaal Williams, I'm a halfback, I'm No. 21 and nobody can stop me.''
Little did they know how prophetic that would be.