So Boom Williams missed two games in 2015 and still rushed for over 850 yards, topped the century mark in five different games, including three against SEC competition, popped 14 runs of 20 or more yards and played the final three weeks wearing a rather large elbow brace.
In the eyes of an unimpressed college football nation, however, when will Boom truly go boom?
Such is the scenario for one Stanley Williams, Kentucky’s junior-to-be running back, heading into the 2016 season as surely one of the most important pieces of new offensive chief Eddie Gran’s new pro-style, balance-is-the-key gameplan puzzle.
Under old offensive coordinator Shannon “One-and-Done” Dawson, Williams took the season’s first handoff on the season’s first offensive play and bolted 75 yards for a touchdown against UL-Lafayette to start the last campaign with some early fireworks.
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Williams finished with 135 yards in what turned out to be a hit-and-miss sophomore season. Head coach Mark Stoops held Williams out of UK’s overtime win over FCS neighbor Eastern Kentucky after Williams didn’t react well to an in-game benching the week before. Later, in the midst of a 52-21 thumping at the hands of Tennessee, Williams dislocated his right elbow, forcing him to miss the following week’s loss at Georgia.
And yet Williams still finished the season tops in the SEC in yards per carry (7.1) among backs with at least 100 attempts last season. Besides his home run against Lafayette, Boom had a 66-yard run at Vanderbilt, a 60-yard run against Auburn and a 53-yard run against Charlotte, one of four 20-yard carries against the 49ers.
Did this impress the national or even conference experts? Apparently not. Phil Steele’s 2016 College Football Yearbook, the bible of the hardcore college football fan, hit the bookstores last Tuesday, and Williams was conspicuous by his absence, failing to make any of Steele’s top four preseason All-SEC teams.
Some of the included names only poured salt into the wound. The first-team choices of LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd made perfect sense. But there on the second-team list, along with Georgia’s Nick Chubb, was Alabama sophomore Damien Harris, the former Madison Southern star who was limited to 157 yards on 46 carries last season playing behind Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry (2,219 rushing yards) and Kenyan Drake (408).
It’s not a bad bet that the absence of Henry and Drake, plus the Tide’s stellar offensive line, will vault Harris into the spotlight. After all, Steele put another unproven Bama back, sophomore Bo Scarbrough, on his fourth team along with Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb. Georgia’s Sony Michel and Auburn’s Jovon Robinson were third-team picks.
And yet, Williams also failed to appear on Steele’s list of the best 46 NFL draft-eligible backs for 2016. Juniors-to-be were included. In fact, LSU’s Fournette was at the top of the list.
So what Williams have to do in 2016 to attract a little more attention? It always starts with health. Missing those two games last season probably cost Williams a 1,000-yard rushing season, s a milestone no UK back has reached since 2007 when Rafael Little gained 1,013.
The injured elbow required offseason surgery, which in turn forced Williams to be held out of contact during spring drills. That by itself shouldn’t hold Boom back a bunch, but no doubt Gran would have liked to judge how well his best returning back can break tackles in the new offense.
An improved offensive line should also help. Jon Toth is among the top two or three centers in the SEC, if not the best. (Steele ranked Toth as the fifth-best draft-eligible center in the nation.) And the feeling post-spring drills was that UK was better and deeper at almost every spot along the front.
The real key to Williams receiving more respect is the key to everything this season for the Cats: Winning. Victories and bowl games bring attention. If Kentucky finds a way to earn that ever-elusive sixth win in 2016, surely Boom will play a large role in the team process — and earn the individual benefits.
SEC’s top returning rushers
Boom Williams game-by-game at UK
UK 100-yard rushing games last 10 seasons
- Rafael Little-8
- Derrick Locke-8
- Boom Williams-8
- Randall Cobb-3
- Jojo Kemp-2
- Raymond Sanders-2
- CoShik Williams-2
- Josh Clemons-1
- Braylon Heard-1
- Mikel Horton-1
- Dyshawn Mobley-1
- Matt Roark-1
- Donald Russell-1
- Jalen Whitlow-1