UK Football

UK football: Toughness lifted CoShik Williams from walk-on to starter

Kentucky's CoShik Williams tried to tear away from Tennessee's Dontavis Sapp in the Cats' win over the Volunteers on Nov. 26. Williams is the No. 1 running back on UK's spring depth chart.
Kentucky's CoShik Williams tried to tear away from Tennessee's Dontavis Sapp in the Cats' win over the Volunteers on Nov. 26. Williams is the No. 1 running back on UK's spring depth chart. Amy Wallot

Coaches nearly had to hold CoShik Williams down and force the red jersey over his head.

The Kentucky running back injured his right shoulder in the team's first football scrimmage of spring, but he was opposed to donning the no-contact jersey in practice after that.

"Well, it's the Louisville color of red," he joked Friday during UK's 11th of 15 practices this spring. "Who'd want to wear that?"

More than anything, Williams didn't like what wearing a red jersey said about him.

"I just want to be tough and fight through my injuries," the 5-foot-9, 184-pound senior said. "It's kind of tough seeing my friends out there doing drills I can't do. That's why I didn't want to be in red."

It's just the kind of attitude Williams' coaches have come to expect from the former walk-on who became a go-to playmaker for UK late last season after injuries took out the Cats' top runners.

"CoShik might be the toughest guy on our football team, watching him get banged around and he's holding his shoulder and the next play he goes, gets hit again," Coach Joker Phillips said last week.

Being tough has been a necessity for Williams, who grew up with two older brothers who also played football.

"I got my little rear end beat up," he said laughing on Friday, while recalling living in a house with brothers who are five-plus years older than him.

"They picked on me all the time," he said. "They were always tough on me from the time I was small."

Williams specifically remembers a time when he was in early elementary school back in Georgia when his parents were going out and left him in the care of his siblings.

"I was already crying because they were leaving," he said of his parents. "They handed me to my brothers, who tracked down the smallest comb they could find and combed my hair backwards. I felt like my skull was being ripped off."

But that event and the many others that come with having big brothers made him tougher, Williams said.

"Every time I think about that comb incident, I think about how it was one thing that made me tougher," he said.

Williams even has developed a method for blocking out pain.

"I try to think about another area of my body that isn't feeling pain," he explained. "Like if there's pain in my shoulder, I squeeze my hand and try to think about what's going on in my hand."

Being tough is what gives Williams, who started UK's final five games last season and is listed as the No. 1 running back on the spring depth chart, his advantage.

"He's a little bit smaller than you're supposed to be, so he's kind of figured out what his edge is, which is being very competitive and tough," UK running backs coach Steve Pardue said. "He's a gifted kid."

Williams' competitive edge also comes from being lightly recruited out of Hiram High School in Georgia, where he rushed for 1,000 yards his senior season despite missing four games (reluctantly) with an injury. He was third in the state in rushing his junior year with more than 1,600 yards.

The senior ended up at UK after former Hiram teammate Trevard Lindley showed his tape to Phillips, who liked what he saw and invited Williams to walk on at Kentucky. The back earned a scholarship after his sophomore season.

"I always feel like I have to prove myself, no matter what I do," Williams said. "If I'm blocking, I have to block better than everyone else. I've got to be better at everything than everyone else."

Last season after injuries sidelined Josh Clemons and Raymond Sanders, Williams became the premier back, running for 486 yards and three touchdowns, including two in UK's win over Mississippi. He also caught 19 passes for 70 yards.

When he fully heals and that dreaded red jersey comes off, Williams plans to show the coaches that he's capable of even more yardage this season.

They already know.

"He's a strong kid for his size," Pardue said. "He's gotten bigger this off-season and it's helped him this spring. ... But more than that, he's a real competitor. He doesn't back down."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader