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‘The Silencer’: Kyren Williams puts heart on display as No. 1 running back

| Friday, December 4, 2020

“ND Kyren Williams I see you hit em with ‘The Silencer’ to close out this game!”

A year ago, Kyren Williams was essentially unknown. Now he’s getting tweeted at by LeBron James.

A four-star commit from St. Louis, Williams appeared in four games for the Irish last season, showing some promise but joining a long list of running backs on the depth chart. But a lot can change in a year. Just in the past month alone, Williams put the Clemson defense on its heels in the biggest game of the year and earned the praise of King James.

“I try to see myself as if I’m the same person as last year,” Williams said. “One-year difference has been huge. You know, I never would have guessed where I’m at right now.”

While Williams says his game has changed physically, he’s been preparing to play at this level his whole life.

“I’ve been able to work on my speed, my cuts, my body,” he said. “I’ve been able to get my body in a position to withstand these long games and take all these shots and just keep on going. Mentally, nothing’s really changed for me; ever since I started playing this game, it’s been the same game. But physically a lot of things have changed that have helped me get where I’m at now.”

Fanfare and flashiness aside, Williams has emerged as one of the backbones of this dynamic Irish offense. While his rise to stardom might seem unexpected, those close to Williams would likely say they’ve seen this talent and leadership from him well before his sophomore season.

“Ever since I’ve been playing sports, I’ve always just had that natural ability to lead no matter what it is,” Williams said. “People just look on to me to bring that energy and that juice.”

Robert Willets | The Raleigh News and Observer
Irish sophomore running back Kyren Williams gets up after diving into the end zone for the game-clinching score during Notre Dame’s 31-17 win over North Carolina on Nov. 27. Williams got a shoutout from NBA star LeBron James on Twitter during the game, with James calling Williams’ score “The Silencer.”

Intuition and athleticism can only carry you so far. While in high school, Williams played on both sides of the ball, leading St. John Vianney to a Class 5 Missouri State Championship. But the transition to college required Williams to hone in on his offensive skill set, focusing on strength and blocking without the ball. Williams said this successful transition came down to confidence, a quality instilled by his parents at a young age.

“I think the biggest thing for young running backs coming into college is confidence. … Having that confidence to pass block is huge,” he said. “Obviously you’re going to be going against people who are bigger than you, but you can’t look at it like that. You’ve got to have a bigger heart, no matter how small or how big you are.”

Williams went on to compare pass blocking to playing defense in basketball.

“You just got to stay low, move my feet and not let them run through me,” he said. “And you’ve got to work your hands. You’ve got to have really good hands and be able to lock on that person.”

While Williams has proven himself to be a prolific blocker, don’t be fooled — the Irish are at their best with the ball in his hands. He’s averaging just over 100 rushing yards per game and has tallied 12 rushing touchdowns on the season. But the true stardom of Williams goes well beyond the numbers. Williams’ best performances have come when the stage is largest, and when the Irish need a big score, they’ve looked to Williams time and time again.

Against Clemson, Williams scored three touchdowns, including a 65-yard rush as he broke down the left sideline in the opening minute of play, setting the tone for the game. He ultimately delivered the game-winning rush in double overtime that lifted the Irish over the Tigers 47-40. Less than three weeks later he recorded 144 yards — 124 rushing and 20 receiving — in a too-close-for-comfort win over North Carolina.

With the regular season nearly behind them, the Irish will need to pull out all the stops in their presumptive second matchup against Clemson at the ACC Championship on Dec. 19. The winner of that game will almost certainly be advancing to the College Football Playoff.

While the bright lights might intimidate others, Williams sees the conference championship as an opportunity for this team to cement themselves in Notre Dame lore.

“You come to Notre Dame, you don’t think you’re going to play in any conference game — nothing,” he said. “But now, look; we’re in the ACC Championship for the first time in Notre Dame history.”

With the stakes rising with each game going forward, fans can expect Williams to call on that same confidence and energy he was known to exude since his days dominating Missouri football. But don’t expect it to stop at Williams.

“I feel like every day now at Notre Dame that I have to bring that juice. I have to bring that energy for everybody,” he said. “From there it’s contagious. Once you see one person with confidence it’s hard to look at your brother and not be confident when he’s confident.”

With each passing game, coaches, experts and fans alike have commented on the newfound swagger and self-assurance of this team. It’s no coincidence that at the center of this attitude change is Williams, whose style of play and leadership has set the tone with just nine games of meaningful playing time under his belt.

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