By JOEL COLEMAN
Having grown up just down the road in West Point, Aeris Williams is thankful every time he gets to pull on his maroon and white Mississippi State uniform. The redshirt freshman running back has had coaches help him along the way to becoming a part of MSU’s stable of rushers, but Williams is quick to credit one entity above all others.
“It’s exciting and it’s a blessing,” Williams said. “I just give all the glory to God and thank God for just putting me in this position.”
This season, Williams is getting his first chance to make an impact with the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is coming off of perhaps his best overall game yet, running for 26 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for five yards in MSU’s 45-20 win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
While a step in the right direction, Williams said he isn’t satisfied.
“I think I can do better,” Williams said. “I can hit the hole better and read the offensive line and their blocks and stuff like that.”
Williams has already begun to show flashes of the impact player MSU envisions. He’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry this year, totaling 91 yards and two touchdowns while sharing running back duties with Ashton Shumpert, Brandon Holloway and Dontavian Lee.
Veterans Shumpert and Holloway have taken most of Mississippi State’s carries this season, but that doesn’t mean that the younger duo of Williams and Lee can’t earn themselves bigger roles.
MSU head coach Dan Mullen says for that to happen, the young rushers need to improve on doing things better when the ball isn’t in their hands. Then, when the ball is in their hands, they’ve got to do a better job at holding on.
“Pass protection is No. 1,” Mullen said. “You’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback. You protect the quarterback and you protect the ball. Those are the two things that you have to do. A lot of guys have cool highlight videos from high school but this is the Southeastern Conference, so what they need to do is learn to be all around football players. They are getting better at that as they get experience, as they get reps, as they make mistakes.”
Mullen knows that, as a young player, Williams is perhaps more prone than a veteran to have a gaffe from time to time. When those moments happen though, Mullen expects them to serve as teaching moments.
“The biggest thing to me is that it is okay to make a mistake,” Mullen said. “Don’t make the same mistake twice. That is a lack of mental discipline on their part. As you are making mistakes, I want to see them grow and develop after making that mistake. I don’t want to see it happen again. I want to see them improve and move forward. They need to understand how they made that mistake, why they made that mistake, and know what we are going to do to fix it.”
Williams feels like he is improving in all aspects of his game. That includes the area that Mullen said matters most.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot better with my pass blocking,” Williams said. “I’m selling my runs. When you don’t have the ball, that means a lot because you are trying to open up things for your teammates.”
That doesn’t mean Williams still isn’t looking to provide a spark for MSU’s running game. So far this year, the Bulldogs haven’t had a running back total more than 57 yards on the ground in any game.
Mississippi State has relied heavily on its passing attack to provide offense this year, but Williams said it’s on his unit to step their game up and take some of the load off of quarterback Dak Prescott’s arm.
“We’ve got to do a lot better running the ball,” Williams said. “That comes with having great eyes like (running back coach Greg Knox) always says. We’ve got to open our eyes and just read holes better and hit those holes with no second guessing.”
Williams plans to do his part to improve the running game so that he can make the most of the opportunity that he says God provided him.
“I’ve got to do a lot better if I’m going to be the back that I’m supposed to be,” Williams said.