Darrel Williams is prepared to do his best Kenny Hilliard.
He’s ready to be LSU’s bruising back, the guy who gets the carries inside the 5-yard line, the player who stays between the tackles, who moves piles, runs over opponents and rumbles – not runs.
The focus on LSU’s backfield – and its team, for that matter – might rest on Heisman Trophy hopeful and former top-ranked recruit Leonard Fournette, but there’s another highly touted guy immediately behind the star.
A week into LSU’s preseason camp, Williams, a 6-foot, 230-pound ball of muscle, is poised to step into the cleats of Hilliard, the Tigers’ short-yardage runner who exhausted his eligibility after last season. The departure of Hilliard and Terrence Magee leaves Williams and Fournette – two sophomores – leading a young and, somewhat, inexperienced position group into the 2015 season.
You don’t have to tell Williams. He knows who the four scholarship running backs are: Fournette, himself and two true freshmen in Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette.
“I’ve got to play a big role this year,” said Williams, a Marrero native and ex-John Ehret star. “Last year, we had Leonard, Kenny and Terrence. It was more learning everything. Now I’ve got to step up to the plate.”
That starts with helping fill the void of Hilliard. Williams immediately shifts from fourth stringer – he had 64 carries all of last year – to second-stringer behind Fournette. He suggested last week that the coaching staff plans to use him in the way they used Hilliard, two self-proclaimed “power backs.”
Williams showed flashes of that during the spring game in April. He scored a touchdown from the 5-yard line, hitting a pile near the 3 and then pushing it into the end zone for a score that had ESPN announcers oohing and aahing.
He demonstrated some shiftiness, too, dodging two defenders during another run in the spring game.
Williams is the compliment to the face of the program. He says he’s not too dissimilar from Fournette either.
“I think we’re quite equal. He’s got a little more speed,” Williams admitted.
Have they raced?
“Nah,” a smiling Williams said.
Coach Les Miles has preached over the last few months that his focus is to have Fournette “fresh” for each game. That means handing off to Williams on occasion. Miles is known for his running back-by-committee approach.
In fact, Fournette’s 27 carries in the win over Florida last season was just the sixth time in three seasons (2012-14) that an LSU running back hit the 20-carry mark in a game. The Tigers’ No. 2 running back during that three-year stretch averaged about seven carries a game and ran for 550 yards a year.
“Me and Leonard are the main two running backs. Like Kenny and Terrence Magee,” Williams said. “Our first year coming in, we were just learning the system. We didn’t really know too much. Now we’ve got it down pat. Now we’ve just got to teach the young guys.”
They’re supposed to get plenty of touches, too. Guice and Brossette are quick-footed, skilled tailbacks who have already developed reputations during camp.
“I know they’ve got good hands and are great route runners,” Williams said.
Williams and Fournette are the old men of the group. They’re both 20.
“Coach Frank (Wilson) said he never had sophomores lead a team,” Fournette said. “He says it’s a big role but he believes in us, and we can do it.”
Hilliard and Magee still keep in touch with their former pupils-turned-leaders. All four running backs are on a group text message.
Williams is aware of the role he’ll have – even if the top player in the nation is in front of him.
“I’m one of the big guys now,” he said. “It’s my turn, my time.”
POSITION PREVIEW SERIES
Monday: Defensive line
Wednesday: Offensive line
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.