For a school that has produced Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball and sent several other running backs in the NFL, you perhaps start to understand why the University of Wisconsin tagged Gary Andersen as its next head football coach.
Last year alone, the former Utah State coach placed two running backs in the NFL when Robert Turbin was taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round and Michael Smith was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the seventh round.
Come April, Utah State will very likely place its third running back in the NFL in the past two years when Kerwynn Williams hears his name called in the NFL Draft.
Williams gives Andersen credit for what he’s been able to do for a program that doesn’t have a history of much success.
“He was definitely a big influence in my life,” said Williams at the NFL Combine. “He gave me the opportunity to come up there and play and join a team and be a part of a team that was rebuilding. And he did a great job turning the program around up there, and he’s got everybody’s mindset going real well and looking good moving forward.”
Andersen now takes over a program that is coming off its third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance, but looking back at what he was able to accomplish in Logan, Utah is nothing short of remarkable.
In four years at Utah State, Andersen compiled a 26-24 record, but the last two years capped off an amazing turnaround. In 2011 the Aggies finished with a winning record (7-6) and made its first appearance in a bowl game since 1997.
Then in 2012, Utah State went undefeated in WAC conference play, capturing the league championship, going 11-2 overall and had its first bowl win since 1993 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, a win over Toledo in which Williams was named the game’s MVP.
It was a close game in the fourth quarter after Toledo was able to capitalize on a fumble by Williams and cut Utah State’s lead to 13-9 with just 7:28 remaining in the game. From then onward, Williams and the Aggies exploded.
Williams ripped off runs of 63, 56 and 25 yards with just minutes remaining in the game as Utah State would go onto win 41-15. He finished with a career-high 235 yards rushing, 182 of which game in the fourth quarter.
“I hadn’t done much prior to (the last two quarters), and I knew that the game was really close,” said Williams. “I didn’t want us to end up losing that game. After that, I fumbled, and that kind of lit a fire underneath me, and I knew I had to atone for that fumble.”
What Williams now has to overcome is the perception that he could be merely a “third-down back” in the NFL, a title that Williams tries to ignore.
“I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” said Williams. “There’s no separate position for that. When you look at your position, it says ‘RB,’ it doesn’t say ‘third-down RB.’ I think it’s just another name for another position that kind of divides it up a little bit. But I don’t really try to pay attention to that. I just try to be as well-rounded as possible and go out there and compete.”
At 5-8 and 195 lbs., Williams doesn’t have the prototypical size of a feature back in the NFL, but he does have the speed.
Among running backs at the Combine, only two had faster times than Williams’ 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash. His short shuttle time of 4.15 seconds also ranked in the top five among players at his position.
The way Williams looks at it, he doesn’t need to be everything to everyone. The way some teams in the NFL use a backfield by committee fits him perfectly.
“Not everyone’s Adrian Peterson,” said Williams. “So I think that having two great backs is definitely better than having just one sometimes.”
Whether the Packers would have any interest in Williams is up for debate. They already have a mighty mite of their own in DuJuan Harris, who’s 5-8 and 203 lbs.
The late rounds of the NFL Draft are impossible to predict, however. Who knows? Maybe Williams will be the next import from Utah State to come to Wisconsin like his head coach before him.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.