As a Louisiana native and lifelong LSU fan, nothing was going to stop running back Darrel Williams from signing to play football for the Tigers.
Not an early, ill-advised commitment to Arizona State, nor strong overtures from Florida, Texas A&M and UCLA — among others.
Not fellow running back Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 recruit who’ll command a lot of attention and likely get most of the carries over the next three seasons.
Not even his beloved motor bike could get in the way, according to his coach at John Ehret High School — Corey Lambert.
“Darrel was riding a motor bike when he first got here,” Lambert said of Williams, who transferred from L.W. Higgins to John Ehret for his junior year after his family moved. “I called his parents and said, ‘Listen to me, he cannot play for me riding a motor bike.’
“They wanted to know why and I told them, ‘This kid has an opportunity in two years to get a full scholarship to college, and I don’t want him to hurt himself.’ So they traded in the motor bike for a car.”
It was a blessing in more ways than one for Williams’ mother, Karen. She said she had been telling her husband, Darrel Sr., for years that it wasn’t safe for their son to be riding the motor bike.
“Darrel always said, ‘Mom, I have this. … If I didn’t know what I was doing, I wouldn’t ride it,’ ” Karen Williams said. “I always told him it didn’t have to be him, that it could easily be someone else (to hurt him).”
Even though he personally was scared of motor bikes, it told Lambert something about the 6-foot, 230-pound Williams: his toughness.
“Man, he was a rough rider, but what it showed me was he was one tough cookie,” Lambert said. “He’s not afraid of anything. He reminds me a lot of (NFL running back) Marshawn Lynch. Wait until you guys see him block.”
Once he got off the motor bike and into Lambert’s offense, Williams’ career took off.
Lambert said Williams rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns as a quarterback during a trying 0-9 junior season in 2012 and piled up more than 2,300 yards and 33 TDs while playing running back as a senior.
On his way to becoming a four-star recruit and being ranked as the nation’s 11th-best running back by Rivals.com, Williams scored seven TDs in a 61-28 bashing of archrival West Jefferson as the Patriots went 9-2 and claimed the district title.
While he was naturally overshadowed in the New Orleans area by Fournette, the nation’s top recruit, Williams still made the Class 5A all-state team and committed to Arizona State at the urging of an Ehret assistant who is no longer on his staff, Lambert said.
Williams later flipped from Arizona State and eventually picked LSU three weeks before Fournette chose the Tigers over Alabama.
While some might have questioned the decision to still wind up at the same school as Fournette, Williams is excited about the chance to be part of Les Miles’ deep stable of running backs.
“I just want to contribute to the team and help us try to get wins,” said Williams, who could get his share of carries along with Fournette and seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard in Miles’ backfield-by-committee system. “I’m a player that loves to compete.
“Leonard coming here never affected me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of this team and the tradition here and everything.
“I wanted to play football at LSU since I was small. The running back history here, I love it.”
Former LSU running backs Stevan Ridley, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue are currently in the NFL. Jacob Hester, Justin Vincent, Charles Scott also went to the next level, along with fullbacks Quinn Johnson and J.C. Copeland — all in the past seven seasons.
“Darrel told me his goal is to play in the NFL, and the track record shows LSU has put more players in the NFL than any other school over the last seven years,” Lambert said. “I told him if it was his aspiration to start, he shouldn’t run from it. But if he went to LSU and put four good years together, he could go to the NFL.
“I told him it’s not about Terrence or Leonard. The track record of (LSU running backs coach) Frank Wilson shows Darrel could have a shot at the NFL.”
While LSU fans will still be focusing on Fournette, Williams said he doesn’t mind it one bit even though some other players might be jealous of the attention.
“I’m not worried about that … it’s a lot of media hype,” Williams said. “Leonard is a cool guy and he was the No. 1 player in the nation, so he’s supposed to get all the hype.
“We were pretty good friends back home, and we’ve become closer since we got here.”
Lambert and Magee predicted Williams will turn some heads as well this season.
“Darrel runs the ball real hard,” Magee said Monday. “He’ll surprise some people with how big he is and the moves he’s got in the open field. He’s a quiet, very soft-spoken guy.”
“He’s a quiet person, but he gets the job done,” Lambert said. “Darrel doesn’t say much, and he doesn’t want to be in the limelight. But give him the ball, and he’ll do something with it.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.