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Provo • It remains to be seen if running back Jamaal Williams will break Harvey Unga's all-time career rushing record at BYU, but it is clear as the 2016 college football season approaches that the senior from Fontana, Calif., will never be forgotten.
"Yeah, I hope I've made my mark here, in a good way," Williams said.
Having missed the 2015 season for personal reasons, Williams is back in 2016, and still arguably one of the most popular players to ever pass through Provo, even if his absence last year left the team a bit thin at running back, and without its biggest playmaker on offense.
One minute he is teasing a reporter about getting shorter instead of taller; the next, he is sharing his nicknames for various members of the coaching staff.
Who else can get away with calling a former Heisman Trophy winner "Coach Big Belly?"
Williams is nothing if not passionate and entertaining on and off the field.
This year, he insists he is adding another word to the many he uses to describe himself.
"Maturity," he said after Saturday's scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the first time he's been tackled in a live setting since suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2014 season.
"And I've learned to keep my temper. I still got my fight and everything," he continued. "It just grows more and more every time because I am so passionate about football. I am passionate about being out here with my teammates."
Fellow running backs Squally Canada and Algernon Brown say Williams' private persona is a bit different than his public one.
"He kind of keeps to himself in meetings," said Brown. "Just more low-key, but still really cool."
Noted Canada: "His locker is right next to mine, and I thought he wouldn't say anything to me at first, kind of act like he was so [famous] that he didn't need to. But it was the opposite; he was trying to talk to me, and we became really good friends once I opened up and started talking to him."
One thing Williams rarely talks about, Canada said, is the BYU career rushing record of 3,455 yards. Williams ranks sixth on BYU's all-time list, with 2,526, meaning that he needs 930 to break Unga's mark.
"It is always on your mind, but you just can't think about that," Williams said. "Honestly, I am just thinking about the team, and us getting W's and having a great season."
Williams also thinks a lot about staying healthy and eligible. He knows that he needs to average 78 yards a game in BYU's 12 regular-season games against a killer schedule, and can't afford to miss time due to suspension or injury.
"Last year was a hard time for me, being away from the team," he said at BYU's media day in June. "I do want the record, but the team comes first. I won't let them down this year."
Williams turned 21 in April, but still considers himself the "old man" on the team, along with quarterback Taysom Hill, who turns 26 this month. In 2,013, the duo combined to rush for 2,577 yards the only season in which both stars stayed healthy, except for the concussion and shoulder stinger Williams suffered against Utah that caused him to miss most of the second half of that game.
Hill has said that one of the reasons he came back from a Lisfranc foot injury was because Williams was also coming back.
New coach Kalani Sitake described Williams as a "great leader" and a "fun guy" who has not given the new staff an ounce of trouble since it took over last January. Sitake said he doesn't feel like he has to "rein in" one of the biggest characters on the team.
"Well, I want them to feel comfortable in who they are, but also [realize] that the team is the most important thing," he said. "If it is something that is bringing attention to the team, then I am good with it. He's been positive all the time. He is very complimentary of the team. I am not going to tell a guy not to be himself, especially when it is about the team."
Sitake said Williams is a "good example on how to be yourself, and still be about the team."
How will offensive coordinator Ty Detmer use Williams this season? Expect him to catch more passes out of the backfield, but still get around 20-25 carries per game.
"I am just here to, you know, cause trouble, be a rebel, run the ball, catch the ball, do some blocking," Williams said, laughing. "You know, just be a leader."
And just be Jamaal Williams the mature one.
BYU's all-time rushing leaders
1. Harvey Unga 3,455
2. Curtis Brown 3,221
3. Jamal Willis 2,970
4. Lakei Heimuli 2,710
5. Jeff Blanc 2,663
6. Jamaal Williams 2,526