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Williams set to give BG fits next week at GMAC

Picture a short, stout running back wearing number 20, dressed in blue, slashing through holes, juking defenders out of their shoes and burning past the last line of defense.

Remind anyone of Barry Sanders?

Though he may not be Sanders, Memphis junior running back DeAngelo Williams thrills viewers with spectacular runs that leave jaws dropped and defenders crushed.

Standing in at 5’10” and weighing 217 pounds, Williams has leaped to the top of the college football running back ranks in 2004. His numbers speak for themselves: He amassed 1, 828 rushing yards, which is third in the nation, just 17 yards behind leader J.J. Arrington of Cal and 15 back of Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma. He led the nation in scoring with 132 points and his 21 rushing touchdowns are the best in the country. He also is third in the nation with 295 carries.

Williams’ production earned him Conference USA Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors along with Louisville senior quarterback Stefan LeFors.

In the final four games of the year — crunch time to get to a bowl — Williams played the best football of his career. He torched Louisville for 200 yards and a touchdown, Southern Miss for 199 and two scores, East Carolina for 225 and four TD’s and South Florida with a career-high 263 yards and two TD’s.

Coming out of Wynne High School in Wynne, Arkansas, Williams was considered the top back in the state of Arkansas. In his senior season, he averaged an astounding 10.4 yards per carry.

After going through the recruiting process, he decided to attend Memphis because Tigers head coach Tommy West was straightforward with him.

“He just told me plain and simple, ‘You will determine when and how fast you play on this team. I can’t guarantee you anything’,” Williams said. “And I liked his honesty.”

“He’s a coach that will treat you like a man, and if you can’t handle it, then that’s when he’ll treat you like a boy.”

Williams did not waste time proving that he was a legit back. In his freshman year, he gave Tiger fans a glimpse of what was to come, carrying 103 times for 684 yards and five touchdowns.

Memphis started that season slowly, losing two straight heading into a matchup against Tulane. Needing a win badly, Williams was given a bigger load than he had previously seen and did not disappoint. He ran for 166 yards and a touchdown, averaging 9.2 yards per carry in the Tigers 38-10 win over the Green Wave.

Memphis had a poor season overall, which Williams was not used to dealing with.

“My first year, we were 3-9 and it was a learning year for me because I had come from a high school (where) we (had) nine or ten wins every season. We were playing for something, either the conference championship or state championship. So, (losing) was kind of hard for me to swallow.”

In his sophomore year, Williams became Memphis’ featured back. He piled up 1,430 yards, which was fifth in the nation and set the Tiger single-season record, and 13 touchdowns (10 rushing), earning him Conference USA Offensive and Player of the Year honors. His effort was crucial in helping Memphis earn a trip to the New Orleans Bowl.

After gaining 61 yards in a season-opening win over Tennessee Tech, Williams began a 10-game streak of running for over 100 yards before injury struck.

He tore the MCL in his left knee in the third quarter against Cincinnati and was forced to sit out the regular season finale against South Florida and that year’s bowl game against North Texas.

In the offseason, Williams changed his workout regimen to build on his ’03 success and prevent another injury.

“I’ve changed how I work in the weight room,” he said. “Last year, I went through different training, but (now I know) how to deal with what’s aching on my body or what I need to focus in on. I know how to treat my body now.”

West believes that Williams may have been slow to start this year, but as the season went on, his star shined bright.

“The first half of the season, I thought he was OK,” said West, who is 25-22 in four years leading the Tigers. “The last half of the season, he’s been like himself. Once he got in good game shape … he got in a groove.”

Despite all of the praise and accolades Williams has received, he gives much of the credit to the big men up front that give him room to run.

Memphis starts four seniors and one red-shirt sophomore on their line.

“Our (offensive) line has done a great job. They’re my backbone and without them, I’m nothing,” he said.

Although the only BG game he saw this year was against Toledo, Williams knows what to expect. He sees the Falcon defense as “very fast” and likes the play of the defensive line.

“They’re powered by the front four and their up front people get pressure on the quarterback very well, and they just come out and play.”

Williams, aware of the offensive power the Falcons bring to the field, left one bit of advice to help his Tigers in the GMAC Bowl.

“Tell (BG) quarterback (Omar Jacobs) not to throw for 4, 000 yards against us.”

The main concern in this game, it seems, will be to prevent Williams from making Sanders-like runs. But with the arsenal of skills he has, that may be too big of a task.

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