Undersized Williams fueling Utah State turnaround
Wednesday , November 21, 2012 - 2:28 PM
SALT LAKE CITY— Kerwynn Williams really wasn’t taking much of a chance leaving the bright lights of Las Vegas for the quiet of Cache Valley in northern Utah.
The 5-foot-8 back didn’t have many choices.
"I didn’t have too many options at all, none for scholarship," Williams said. "The only one that mattered in the end was Utah State, and I’m happy with the decision I made."
Now, after biding his time behind a player now in the NFL, Williams has a chance to be part of history when the 25th-ranked Aggies face lowly Idaho on Saturday.
A win secures Utah State’s first-ever 10-win season and first outright league championship since the 1936 team won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Williams already made sure the Aggies (9-2, 5-0 WAC) guaranteed themselves a share of the Western Athletic Conference title with a 48-41 overtime win last weekend over then-No. 19 Louisiana Tech.
He turned a screen pass from quarterback Chuckie Keeton into an 86-yard touchdown on Utah State’s first play from scrimmage then closed out the scoring in overtime on a 4-yard run. He finished with 303 all-purpose yards, including a 16-yard kickoff return.
Coach Gary Andersen, who made Williams part of his first recruiting class, wasn’t surprised at the performance or the ending, not after making eye contact with his senior back before the OT coin toss.
"He was saying, ‘This is my moment. Let me get that coin toss and give me the ball’ and that’s exactly what happened," Andersen said.
Williams acknowledged the emotional nature of the win.
"It felt like all four years of hard work that we all put in since we got here all paid off," he said. "We put a complete game together and went out there and got the victory. It felt great to get that for coach. He gave me the opportunity to come here and play when not many teams were giving me the opportunity. It’s important for me to show him his investment in me was a good one."
Entering Saturday’s game, Williams leads the team in both rushing and receiving, with 1,167 yards on the ground and 39 catches for 624 yards.
He ranks 10th nationally in all-purpose yards and 23rd in the nation in rushing.
His 6,510 career all-purpose yards — including a 75-yard kickoff return against Idaho as a freshman — already is a Utah State career record. He is 181 yards shy of tying the WAC’s all-time record for all-purpose yards set by Terance Mathis of New Mexico in 1989.
Williams already had put up some glitzy numbers at Valley High School in Las Vegas as a running back, wide receiver and quarterback. He rushed for more than 4,000 yards and scored 48 touchdowns in his high school career, but there were questions about whether he could produce at the Division I level.
So he ended up in Logan, about 85 miles north of Salt Lake City on the western slope of the Wasatch Mountains. The 24-7 bustle of Las Vegas it was not, Williams said, as finding even a fast-food restaurant open after 9 p.m. proved difficult.
But he made the adjustment and embraced his new team, even if he wasn’t sure at times how he would be used and when.
"A lot of kids come in with a chip on their shoulder," Andersen said. "They may not have been that star recruit. That’s who we are as a program. Kerwynn is the perfect example of that. He has the drive, the want-to, the fight."
He also has game-day speed, tremendous vision and the ability to be physical when needed between the tackles.
Credit some of those double decker peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches dipped in milk that Williams has been eating since he was a kid.
"Some are like, ‘How do you eat that much peanut butter?"’ Williams said of his post-game and post-practice snack he calls a Ker-Wich. "It seems to be working. ... When I was younger, it was only (one layer). The older I got, the hungrier I got."
He isn’t the only one hungry for wins in Logan.
The team was once a laughingstock, going 9-38 combined over the four years before Andersen arrived in December 2008.
After a pair of 4-8 marks under Andersen, the Aggies finished 7-6 last year, going to their first bowl since 1997 with help from a pair of players— running back Robert Turbin and linebacker Bobby Wagner — who are now members of the Seattle Seahawks.
With Turbin gone on to the next level, Williams finally got his chance.
He wanted to keep running Sept. 7 when the Aggies finally beat Utah in Logan, on his 1-yard score in overtime. He’ll no doubt want to do the same in his final home game if it goes as well as most expect.
"I want to go out and play my best in front of Aggie Nation," Williams said.
Andersen already admires Williams for being an unselfish player through the years and as well as a role model.
"His leadership, his work ethic all season long, his competitiveness ... he has brought us along as a football team for four years," Andersen said.