Young Jamaal Williams driving the Cougar offense

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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Age is a funny thing. When you are young, every birthday is a joy. The approach to one's birthday is akin to the Christmas countdown chain. Gifts are usually thematic and parents are nearly as excited as the child.

Children know exactly how old each family member is and the date and year is rote memory.

As you age, the dates and ages become a little fuzzier, presents become more practical and the occasion boarders on blasé.

I was reminded how great birthdays are when my son Cole turned 11 this year. 11 is a wonderful and magical age, an age of hope, big dreams and optimism.

He was 11-years-old when I started my first game.

–Riley Nelson

That is exactly how old Jamaal Williams was in 2006 when Riley Nelson started his first game as a freshman at Utah State. Nelson left Utah State after his freshman year to serve an LDS mission for two years. During that time he decided to transfer to BYU.

Nelson was welcomed to BYU with open arms and zero promises.

At times, it has been a tumultuous run for Nelson being promoted from backup quarterback (that would run down on kickoff coverage during practice) to leading game winning drives against Utah State and Tulsa.

In football years, Nelson has lived two lifetimes, which makes what the 17-year-old Jamaal Williams is doing all the more remarkable.

Bringham Young running back Jamaal Williams (21) breaks free to score a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Bringham Young running back Jamaal Williams (21) breaks free to score a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

During the off-season, expectations were high for the Cougar rushing corps. It was suspected that Michael Alisa and Iona Pritchard would be the reincarnation of Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga. Riley Nelson was expected to be the dual threat quarterback that would rush and pass his team to double digit victories.

But injuries derailed the Cougars plans. Nelson broke his back (technically, the injury was classified as fractures in the back, but that sounds broken to me), Alisa broke his arm and Pritchard has been slow to recover from last year's leg and foot injury. This forced offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to turn to Taysom Hill, who suffered a knee injury on his 19th carry of the game. That 19 carries was the most attempts by a Cougar rusher all season.

In desperation, Bronco Mendenhall turned to the barely driving Williams to shoulder the offensive backfield load.

"I really don't think of myself as 17." said Williams, "I just think of myself as a college football player trying to make it as far as I can."

Last week against 5th ranked Notre Dame, Williams was electric in the first half, running for 95 yards in the first half. Williams finished with 106 rushing yards, gaining just 11 yards in the second half against one of the nation's top defenses.

On Saturday, Williams carried the ball 28 times for 107 yards. Nine more times than any other Cougar this season and became the first rusher to carry the ball more than 20 times. Williams also put up 54 yards receiving on 3 catches (BYU's new favorite play, the shovel pass).

"I love working hard," said Williams, "I love the challenge of it, being a workhorse. I'm just grateful for them giving me the ball and having me do what I have to do."

Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he's "fortunate" to be Williams' coach, "I'm really glad he's on our team. He's continuing to grow and develop. He runs, not only with speed but with power. I like the way he's falling forward."

Shouldering the load has saved the injured Nelson a great deal of punishment, but the progress is no surprise to the senior quarterback and captain, "Ever since fall camp, I've noticed how patient and natural of a runner he is and it was just a matter of time before he picked up the offense and started to contribute the way he is."

"I'm proud to call him my teammate and brother." said Nelson, "He's got a lot of exciting football left in him, not only this year but as he continues his career here."

One sports reporter in Atlanta turned to me during the game and said, "(Jamaal) is as good as anybody that we have down here (in ACC country)."

That is mighty high praise coming from the proud ACC.

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BYU CougarsSports
Dave Noriega


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