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Provo • BYU's first official football practice of spring camp hadn't started on Tuesday, yet one player was out the field shimmying, dancing and pumping up his teammates in the early morning hours.
Yes, Jamaal Williams is back.
The Cougars' flashy senior running back, having withdrawn from school days before camp started last summer for reasons he's not comfortable discussing yet, says his return should never have been questioned, though almost every coach who turned him into one of the most prolific ball-carriers in school history left for Virginia after the 2015 season.
"I was [always] going to come back, play, finish my years here and everything and be a mature person," Williams said Tuesday. "You know, you gotta finish what you start, and me, I am always loyal to where I started. And I finish what I start. So, the transferring and all that stuff, is none of my concern."
If things go as planned in the new offense Ty Detmer is installing, Williams should overtake Harvey Unga as BYU's all-time leading rusher. Williams racked up 2,526 rushing yards in the 2012-14 seasons; Unga, now a graduate assistant on the coaching staff, had 3,455 from 2006-09.
"Well, we want to establish the run game," Detmer said. "We want to run the ball, and so he is a big part of that. He will have a big hand in what is going on."
Williams suffered a devastating knee injury midway through his junior season, and missed last year's spring camp after surgery. The year off gave him time to heal.
"I feel like I am good," he said. "We are just taking precautions right now, but everybody knows that I am 100 percent and am ready to go."
That was evident on Thursday as well, as the Cougars conducted their second spring practice under new coach Kalani Sitake, who said Williams has had a "great attitude" and "been perfect" since returning to school in January.
"Yeah, Jamaal is a fun guy, a great leader as well," Sitake said. "He fits in with what we are trying to do offensively. … I don't know how much he really needs to do with the live stuff. He wants to do as much as he can, but he's already proven."
On Tuesday, Williams spent a lot of time behind the offense with another Cougar returning to action from injury, quarterback Taysom Hill, who turns 26 in August.
"I feel old," Williams said. "In April, I am turning 21. … I am an old man now. I am finally 21. Taysom is, like, 30. We are just old farts, still playing some college football. We just having fun with it, glad to be on the same team."
Both veterans are getting used to a new offense, one that huddles after every play and is more concerned with executing crisply than speeding things up.
"Yeah, I can breathe," Williams said. "I don't have to worry about looking at the sidelines any more, looking for the pictures [play signals] any more. Now we get to huddle, crack jokes in the huddle, take our time getting to the line. But once we get there, it is full speed."
Hill said he can't wait to be reunited in the fall with Williams; In 2013, the duo combined to rush for 2,577 in 2013, the only season in which both stayed mostly healthy except for the concussion and shoulder stinger Williams suffered against Utah.
"I love playing with Jamaal," Hill said. "I missed him last year. But Jamaal and I were kind of joking there at the back. We were like, man, this is 2016 and can you imagine we are teammates again at BYU? We had a good laugh about it."
Laughter. That's what happens when Williams is around. And, early morning dancing.
Jamaal Williams year-by-year
Season GP Rec Yds TDs Rushes Yds TDs
2012 13 27 315 1 166 775 12
2013 12 18 125 1 217 1,233 7
2014 7 8 47 0 109 518 4