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Kyren Williams slows down to speed up

| Friday, November 6, 2020

If Kyren Williams has learned anything during his time at Notre Dame, it has been patience.

Coming out of high school, his position label was simply “athlete” — he rushed, he received; he caught, he threw: he punted, he returned; he played defense and he broke through it.

As a senior, he recorded 26 touchdowns on the ground with an average of 11.4 yards per carry. He snagged 10 scores through the air with an average of 13.2 per attempt. He threw a 68-yard touchdown pass, one of his two completions on the year and part of a 100% completion percentage. He punted an average of 36.4 yards and returned for four touchdowns. He had 66 solo tackles, 92 total tackles and eight interceptions. He scored 40 touchdowns.

But once he got to Notre Dame, it was a different story.

The freshman sat at the bottom of the depth chart. He watched carefully as former Irish back Tony Jones Jr. pushed the rock and former star receiver Chase Claypool guided the offense. Forget playing all positions — Williams didn’t play any of them. So, he learned to be patient.

Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Irish sophomore running back Kyren Williams looks to juke a defender during Notre Dame’s 12-7 win over Louisville on Oct. 17.

“It wasn’t my time to play. I accepted that role. I accepted that I would have to wait,” Williams said. “I don’t think it was anything to do with my ability, or anything to do with the coaches not believing in me. I think that it was another year to mature and become a more and more developed football player. That’s where I’m at now, and that maturity hasn’t stopped. That development hasn’t stopped — I’m gonna keep developing every single day, every time I step on the field, that’s a mentality that I carry with me, anywhere, with everything I do in life.”

That waiting, that development, that maturity? It’s paid off.

Now an integral part of the Notre Dame offense, Williams has not delayed in making his presence known. Averaging 5.7 yards per carry, he’s recorded seven scores and picked up ACC Rookie of the Week honors multiple times.

“I would see runs here and there that Tony would bust [last year] and I’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can’t wait to get one of those,’” Williams said. “I was just thinking like, ‘Man, I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to get behind [the offensive line] and then run for them.’ So here we are now, here we are today and I’m able to accomplish that dream of being able to play running back here. I’m going to keep going you know … just keep chasing that every single day.”

Williams noted how fortunate he is to have such a stout line, and he reiterated that he wouldn’t be able to affect the game in the way he does without it.

“As a running back, you dream … you’ve got an offensive line like the one we have. They’re moving the line of scrimmage every single run. When you believe that, you can stay patient. You can tiptoe behind the line and still be able to find a hole, get to the hole you need to go to. That’s when you know you have a good offensive line,” he said. “We just love our linemen, love what they do for us.”

Williams added that those benefits extend to the other guys in the running game as well. That’s critical, especially when the team has so many dynamic backs, each of whom has a different job to do.

“We all work off each other. We all bring different skills to the table. We all are all unique in a way,” he said. “With [junior] C’Bo [Flemister], me, [freshman] Chris [Tyree], in the backfield? It’s like that hammer and nail. C’Bo’s gonna come down downhill — he’s gonna hit you … we’re gonna get those bully yards. With Chris, you’ve got that speed, and he’ll come down and hit you too. And then with me, I’ll be able to make you miss. I’ll run you over. There is no drop-off in the running backs. We can throw anybody in, and we can keep moving as offense.”

Though the backs do work as a unit, Williams himself is far and away the team’s leading rusher with 600 yards on 105 carries. Tyree, the next closest, has 264. Williams is so critical in the ground game largely due to his speed, but he emphasized that sometimes in order to go fast, you have to slow down.

“I’m always telling myself to be patient — if I’m being too fast, I’ve got to slow it down,” he said. “It’s a big key for us as running backs … [to] stay patient and hit those holes when they’re ready to be hit.”

Looking ahead to this week’s matchup, Williams acknowledged that the Irish will have their hands full, but “this is why we come to Notre Dame, to play tough games like this — to play Clemson, to play the best teams in the nation.”

“We knew from the beginning of this season that we were going to see Clemson. We’re going to keep going, keep doing what we’re doing. Keep playing as an offense, as a team, as a defense, as a whole, together this weekend, so we can advance this weekend, 1-and-0.”

Locking in to that one week at a time mentality? That’s patience.

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