BOISE, Idaho — It was two years ago on the blue turf, in the midst of an ugly loss, that Utah State football coach Gary Andersen saw the true nature of running back Kerwynn Williams.
The Aggies, a year before they turned the corner and became one of the nation's rising programs, endured a 50-14 loss to Boise State that day.
But Williams starred — rushing for 147 yards and a touchdown. He was a sophomore.
“We got whupped pretty good, but his fight kept going,” Andersen said. “That was the first time I looked at Kerwynn and said, ‘This young man is something special.'”
Everyone who follows Utah State football has seen that this year, Williams' senior season and his first as the Aggies' featured back.
He leads the team in rushing yards (1,277 at 6.4 per carry), receptions (43), receiving yards (663, at 15.4 per catch) and touchdowns (17).
His 1,940 yards from scrimmage represent 35 percent of the team's offense.
He'll finish his career Saturday in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Toledo.
“He's a phenomenal guy, not only athletically but as far as leadership,” sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton said. “He's a competitor through and through. It's definitely shown in his numbers.”
Williams (5-foot-8, 189 pounds) spent the past three seasons predominantly as a kick returner — breaking the WAC record for career kickoff-return yards last season. He could have redshirted last year, stuck behind NFL-bound standouts Robert Turbin and Michael Smith, but the Aggies needed the insurance because coaches had injury concerns about the two seniors.
That's one reason Andersen says he's “never been around more of an unselfish football player.” “It would have been easy for Kerwynn to come into my office and say, ‘Coach, why don't I get a redshirt?'” Andersen said. “But he never did.”
Said Williams: “It's definitely hard, not being able to contribute as much as you would like to, but at the same time it's a team sport ... I understood I had two good guys in front of me. I learned a lot from them.”
Williams has rushed for at least 100 yards in the past three games and has produced at least 100 yards from scrimmage in six straight. He rushed for 162 yards and gained 125 receiving in the second-to-last regular-season game, the Aggies' big win at Louisiana Tech.
He praises the offensive line, which not only creates space in the run game but also gets downfield on the many screen passes that Williams has turned into big plays.
“They do a great job opening up holes for me and all I have to do is run,” Williams said.
He says he's physical when he needs to be, but his key attribute is explosiveness. That's why his yards per carry and catch are so high.
Twice this year, Williams has taken a screen pass to the end zone on the Aggies' first offensive play — an 86-yard TD against Louisiana Tech and a 76-yarder against New Mexico State.
“I try to be a big-play back,” he said.
About three-quarters of his catches are by design, he said. The rest are dump-offs from Keeton.
Williams enters the final game leading senior wide receiver Matt Austin by one catch and 11 yards in the season stats.
“That's just us putting the ball in one of our best players' hands and allowing him to do whatever he wants with it,” Keeton said. “And it's turned out to be successful for us.” Williams, who is from Las Vegas and was part of Andersen's first recruiting class, says he appreciates the education he's received as well as the football experience at Utah State.
He expects to say thanks Saturday.
“I think that me going out there and playing my best and ending the season off with a victory would only be right,” he said, “to repay (the coaches) for all the opportunities they've given me.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services