Kenny Williams wants to spend his senior year living an old U.S. Army slogan: Be All You Can Be.
In Williams’ mind, that means becoming a two-way player, no easy task in major-college football, let alone the Big 12 Conference. Nevertheless, Texas Tech’s leading rusher the last two years confirmed Tuesday that he’s been practicing at Raider outside linebacker, a position left wide open by the loss of 2013 senior Terrance Bullitt.
“We’re kind of thin at the position,” Williams said. “We’re not a run-heavy team in the first place, and whatever I can do for the team, I plan on going both ways. So for the spring, I’m trying to get the defensive plays down and just roll with it.”
Williams and Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said it was the player’s idea, and not something Williams pitched just last week.
“I’ve been telling them since the season, ‘Let’s go both ways,’” Williams said. “They kind of blew it off. But it’s spring football now, it’s my senior season, so why not?”
Williams rushed for 824 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and 497 yards and eight TDs last season. He also showed a defensive mentality by making 14 tackles, nearly all on punt coverage.
Kingsbury made it clear he’s not waving goodbye to Williams the offensive player. Even if the experiment progresses and Williams makes a compelling case to play linebacker, it seems unlikely his running-back days are done.
Kingsbury said there is “no question” Williams will still be used on offense.
Asked the chances of Williams being a linebacker come August and September, Kingsbury said, “I’m not sure. I think he’s done that about two days. So we’ll go through the spring evaluation and see how the summer goes and see where we’re at. But he knows that we have a plan for him, and he’s an offensive player. If he can help us on defense, just like he did on special teams last year — one of the best special teams (players) in the league — we’re going to do it.”
Tech started spring practice March 5 and has had three workouts. Williams moved over Friday for the second and third sessions.
The 5-foot-9, 225-pound senior has career numbers of 311 carries, 1,456 yards and 15 touchdowns and 52 receptions for 479 yards and two TDs.
“Yes, I got recruited as a running back,” he said, “but I look at myself as a football player. So wherever the team needs me, that’s where I’m going to play.”
The Raider outside linebacker spot’s so up for grabs that the week before spring ball started, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt mentioned seven potential candidates, four of whom play other positions.
Now he’s looking at Austin Stewart, who was Bullitt’s backup last year, and Williams. Dorian Crawford, who went into spring listed No. 1 at the spot, has moved back to safety to give coaches time to evaluate Williams.
“He’s just a guy that wants to get on the field more,” Wallerstedt said. “A guy that played on all the special teams. Last year, he starts all the games at tailback and looks over and knows that we’re trying to come up with some answers at Raider. I think he’s confident.”
Wallerstedt said Williams is trying to learn on the run but, ‘He’s a smart kid. He’s a football guy. He’s a run-and-hit guy, an intelligent player and we’re excited to see him progress.”
One issue is whether the Tech offense can afford to sacrifice Williams playing a key role. Junior DeAndre Washington is more than two years removed from major knee surgery and topped 400 rushing yards last year, but there’s no proven depth behind him.
Sophomore Quinton White showed flashes carrying the football in non-conference games, but some missed assignments cost him the potential for more playing time. The Red Raiders signed Cibolo Steele running back Justin Stockton and Spring Dekaney running back Demarcus Felton last month.
All those players are scatbacks, though, 25 pounds or more lighter than Williams.
“We have a couple of young cats coming in,” Kingsbury said when asked about the depth. “They’ll have to step up and learn quick. But like I said, (Williams) can slide in and play running back at any moment, and that’s what’s good about him. He’s such a smart football player, he can learn linebacker and still come back and know what we’re doing offensively.”
Kingsbury’s never had a two-way player.
“But with his carries probably being anywhere from 50 percent to 33 percent, we feel like if he wants to do it, if he can bring that type of energy, that type of enthusiasm, that type of intelligence to the other side of the ball, let’s do it,” Kingsbury said.
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