This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Provo • One of the great subplots to Friday's late-late-night special at LaVell Edwards Stadium featuring BYU and Mississippi State, a game won by BYU by the count of 28-21 in double overtime, was whether Jamaal Williams would become BYU's all-time leading rusher. Coming in, he needed just 64 yards to get the record. But he was facing an SEC defense, the Bulldogs' front ranking 37th in the country in stopping the run.
In a game, then, that featured strength versus strength, Williams won barely. It was a rough/blessed night for the senior. He gained 76 yards on 26 carries.
But the record, he got 3,468 yards. And the crowd cheered him.
"I'm grateful to get it," Williams said afterward, showering praise on his teammates. "… I just want to say, 'Thank you.'"
So, he did.
Nobody among the Cougars is under any illusion that Williams is not the team's best player, although, at times, the play calling makes you wonder. Opponents know it, too. Longing for the big-time passing attack, BYU's running back is its man. It's not Taysom Hill, who has his talents as a quarterback, but consistently throwing the ball with accuracy isn't one of them.
Williams before Friday night ranked second in the nation in rushing yards and in rushing touchdowns and had even appeared on Heisman watch lists, thanks to three straight weeks of gaining in excess of 160 yards, nearly 300 against Toledo.
Mississippi State, though, was prepared to slow down Williams by doing everything possible to force Hill to beat it via the pass. On this night, the running back's offensive line opened few holes, most of them scant. Again and again, he bulled into them, tried to pry them open for additional yardage.
Williams' career at BYU is well known. He came to the school, found success, found daylight, found a ton of yards, found toughness, found injury, found the seriousness of the BYU honor code, found healing and time to think while dropping out for a year, found resolve to come back, and rediscovered, this season, his passion and talent for carrying the football.
He always had a big game and a big personality.
One of my favorite Williams moments came a little over a year ago, when before he took his time off, he uttered, as an illustration of the things he had learned at religious BYU, a version of the Biblical story known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Many people are familiar with that story. But not Jamaal's telling of it. He offered that up during an interview on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone, while devouring a cupcake. It went like this:
"I'm just a Good Samaritan. You know that story? I've heard that story at least five times since I've been here. Like, I know that story like the back of my hand. I got this. Snap, I don't got this. What's his name? A'ight, here I go. There's a dude walking by. Wait, what's the dude on the floor? A Nephite? A parasite? A Lamanite! A'ight, I'm gonna put this in my words. So, there's a Blood, you know, a Blood and a Crip? So, there's a Blood on the floor and a Crip's walking by. And, you know …. wait, there's … no, no, no … there's two Crips walking by and there's a Blood on the ground, and the Crip's looking at him, like, 'Ah, he's a Blood. We don't mess with him.' Then, the one Crip, he come by and he's like, 'Acch, there's this dude on the floor, but I don't see him as a Blood, I see him as a man on the floor.' He takes him to a barn or something. He gives him some food. He gives him some water. He gives him a donkey … no, no, no … he gives him something, I forgot. He gave him some money. Then, he left the dude there. … I hope I didn't lose you. I just can't remember the names of the groups. It was a Lamanite and a Nephite or a Hephite … That's how I got it. This is a good story. This is cool."
That's a pretty decent indication of who Williams is as a person. He's an energetic, enthusiastic 21-year-old who thinks that kind of story is good and cool, even if the details fall a bit short.
He did not fall short Friday night. As Ty Detmer said it, Williams is one of the best players ever at BYU.
His decision to come back to the school is paying off for him, for his team. The spot where the Cougars would be without him is … well, a whole lot worse than it is now.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on the Zone Sports Network, 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.