Williams blocks his way into feature role in LSU’s ground game

NOT JOSHING AROUND: Former walk-on running back Josh Williams is no joke to defenses trying to stop LSU’s offense.  (Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE — Josh Williams doesn’t turn many heads when he walks into a room filled with his teammates.

He’s small, standing just 5-foot-9.

He’s soft-spoken and careful with his words. He hasn’t been exposed to the limelight much through his first three seasons at LSU.

In that sense, his demeanor is similar to his arrival at LSU: quiet, without much fanfare. He was a preferred walk-on who spent the 2019 championship season on the scout team.

Now, slowly but surely, he’s carved a larger role for himself in Brian Kelly’s offense.

“I feel like I have so much more to prove, I want to show that I can be consistent and that I can continue to do what I’m doing. All this hard work is paying off,” Williams said.

If Williams had been offered a scholarship, he would’ve been the Tigers’ third running back in the Class of 2019, after John Emery, Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price. Davis-Price bolted for the NFL after last season, and was a third-round selection by the 49ers. Emery, a former five-star recruit, has struggled to stay on the field at times, and has been inconsistent with his rushing efficiency at others.

Williams wasn’t signed, though. Instead, he was accepted as a preferred walk-on by then head coach Ed Orgeron.

Williams’ recruiting rating coming out of high school wasn’t due to lack of talent: the redshirt junior was a three-sport athlete out of The Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas. While Williams shined on the gridiron for the Falcons, his first love was basketball. That love even took him overseas, for a five-game exhibition tour in China featuring Houston Rockets legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, along with current Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox.

Between his hardwood travels and time spent in the dugout during spring, Williams passed on plenty of opportunities to put himself in front of college coaches.

The path that Williams took to a scholarship came with a role that most running backs shy away from: pass protection. His unique skillset originally earned him the role as a third-down back, capable of supporting the passing game.

“It’s a lot of pass blocking, a lot of mental training, and a lot of hours spent with (running backs) coach Frank [Wilson],” Williams said about the third-down role. “It’s a lot of understanding, because it can get tricky with all the games and the tricks and the exotic looks defenses try to throw at you. We try to simplify it.”

In last week’s 45-35 win over Florida, Williams took over lead ballcarrier duties, carving out 107 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.

But it wasn’t his rushing prowess that earned him the game ball from his new head coach: Williams did the little things well, like throw a shoulder at a defensive end that might have been  getting past one of LSU’s two true freshmen tackles, Will Campbell and Emory Jones.

“The theme all week was attention to detail, and his attention to the smallest of details in that game helped us win,” Kelly said. “I wanted to make sure that was followed up with the game ball. We asked our backs to chip a lot off those defensive ends to help those young tackles. He’s not 6-foot-2. So when you talk about having to chip, he has to leave his feet to chip. He was outstanding at it.”

There’s a stigma behind being labeled a walk-on, as opposed to being the featured recruit that fans adore before the newcomer ever steps foot on campus. Williams had to work twice as hard to earn his spot on the field as some of his counterparts.

That didn’t faze Williams, though he does believe the uphill climb to playing time is steeper for a walk-on.

“I believe a walk-on means I chose to come here, but I do believe that’s the case,” Williams said, when asked about how more highly-recruited players may see carries before a walk-on would. “I don’t have a problem with it. People are going to believe what they want to believe. I’m just here to show that I can be consistent and that I deserve to be here.”

He’s getting that done.

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com