CoShik Williams has a secret weapon.
It has helped power the Hiram, Ga., product from walk-on to a 148-yard rushing game and, for this week, the starting tailback job at Kentucky.
Call it pillow power.
Williams, the 5-foot-9, 178-pound junior, has been sleeping on the same Power Rangers pillow since it was given to him as a little boy by his dad, Clarence.
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"I've had my Power Ranger pillow since I was, like, 7," Williams said Wednesday, smiling. "I take it on the road with me to our games. Everywhere I go, I got to take that pillow with me."
Doesn't a college-aged male — not to mention an SEC football player — sort of take it on the chops for sleeping on a pillow dedicated to a long-running children's show?
"Some of the guys laugh at me," Williams said. "But when they see it, they be " 'Oh, that's a Power Ranger Pillow. I had one when I was young.' "
No one was laughing at what Williams did last Saturday during Kentucky's 38-14 victory over Jacksonville State. In a season in which UK has often seemed all but devoid of offensive playmakers, Williams put a jolt into Commonwealth Stadium.
Hitting holes with authority and showing an ability to make quick cuts, Williams ran for 148 yards on 22 carries. It was the best rushing performance by a UK player in 2011.
Not bad for a guy who only got to be featured because UK's top tailbacks, Josh Clemons and Raymond Sanders, were injured.
"He's got a chance to be a good back," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said this week of Williams. "We expect him to have a big second half of the season."
Williams did not have a solitary scholarship offer coming out of Hiram High School — the same school that sent Trevard Lindley to UK — in 2008.
"It was size," Hiram Coach Andy Dorsey said of what kept Williams from being more highly recruited. "He was an unbelievable player for us, broke about every rushing record we had."
Dorsey sent highlight films of Williams to colleges throughout the South.
"He didn't have any SEC-level schools looking at him, but there were a lot of 1-AA, smaller schools," the coach said. "But even they never pulled the trigger."
Part of the issue, Williams says, was that he did not get a qualifying score on his college entrance exam until he had already graduated from high school.
"My SAT scores (were) messing me up from going to school," he said. "Things were looking bad for me. I finally got my grades around July."
Dorsey says even if Williams had gotten academic eligibility earlier in the recruiting process and therefore had more offers from so-called smaller schools, he doesn't think the player would have accepted one.
"CoShik was one of those kids who just had the belief that he could play in the SEC," Dorsey said.
When Williams wound up without a football scholarship, Lindley stepped in to help him.
When the cornerback came out of Hiram, he had only one scholarship offer, Kentucky's. In Lexington, Lindley developed into one of the best defensive backs (2006-09) in school history.
"When things weren't looking right with me getting into school, Trevard talked to me," Williams said. "He said 'Just give me your highlight tape and I'll give it to Coach Phillips.' "
So Williams sent his highlights to Lexington via Lindley's mother, Stephanie. UK looked at them and apparently liked what it saw enough to invite him to walk on.
"Trevard called me and said they wanted me to come up for the spring game," Williams said. "I came up to the spring game and talked to Coach Phillips and that's how I happened to come here."
Before Saturday, Williams had shown flashes of promise. He ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns last season against Charleston Southern when UK star Derrick Locke was sidelined with an injury. But Locke came back the next week, and Williams went back to the pine.
What Williams finally got against Jacksonville State was sustained playing time — and he did something with it.
This week against Mississippi State, he'll get something else he's never had, a chance to start an SEC game. It will be against one of the league's more rugged run defenses.
"This is a different opponent, a much more physical opponent," Phillips said. "Some of those arm tackles that (Williams) broke last week, those will be bigger arms this week. He's got to be a guy who plays behind his pads and he's got to be a guy who protects the football for us."
Williams is jacked for the opportunity. Yet he is also comforted by the knowledge that, the night before the game, he will rest his head in a familiar place.
"It's like blue with all the Power Rangers on it," Williams says of his favorite pillow. "It's real old. Matter of fact, the cotton is starting to come out of it. I need to take it to the pillow shop, wherever that is. My whole life, I'm never gonna sleep without it."