David Williams has been the talk of South Carolina’s football preseason, but until Friday no one had revealed a critical detail of his story.
The Gamecocks’ junior tailback entered camp atop the depth chart but quickly fell out of favor with the coaching staff, plummeting to fifth string by the second practice. Head coach Will Muschamp made no secret during the first week of practice that he wanted more consistent effort from Williams, and the running back’s progress back up the depth chart has been the second-most-talked-about topic of the last three weeks, behind only the quarterback competition.
Until Friday, though, no one knew exactly how quickly Williams’ battlefield demotion came.
“Probably an hour into the first day of practice I was kicked out of practice,” Williams said.
So, not only did the coaches put him at the bottom of the depth chart, they took him entirely off the practice field before the first practice was halfway finished. Williams was sent to do conditioning work with the team’s strength staff for the rest of the workout, he said.
“It was tough, but I just had to mentally prepare myself to come back the next day and keep working during the rest of camp,” Williams said.
As word of Williams’ travails became public, old friends and even his mom reached out to check on him.
“I was getting all these phone calls, like, ‘Dave, what are you doing out there?’ People from home. My mom calling me worried,” he said.
It was Williams’ mother who talked him through the situation, Williams said.
“She said, ‘Keep working. They’re just putting you in an uncomfortable situation to see how you’ll react,’ ” Williams said. “I just kept pushing and pushing. It’s been tough to adjust to, but I have been adjusting to it as we have been going. I just look at it as the coaches trying to push me and get the best out of me.”
Williams has pushed himself back up to second spot on the depth chart along with Rod Talley, but his work is not finished. Running backs coach Bobby Bentley made that clear earlier this week, saying he was trying to mold “a new David Williams.”
So, what’s a new David Williams?
“A David Williams that lacked in certain places that he is bringing the best out of me,” Williams said. “Just being more physical. Just having basic knowledge of what’s going on and playing faster. Somebody that comes out and competes every play and pushes themselves to the max every play, no matter if I’m getting the ball or if I’m not getting the ball. Even if I’m play-faking, I’m going 110 mph.”
Williams is the only running back on South Carolina’s roster with any meaningful experience to speak of, but he didn’t take that for granted coming into camp, he said.
“No, it wasn’t like that,” he said. “They told us there was going to be competition, and I knew after the spring there was still going to be competition. I just think they want to be in a position where I won’t be complacent.”
Williams, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound Philadelphia native, has 131 carries for 555 yards and two touchdowns in his career, including one in Nashville, Tenn., where the Gamecocks will open the season Thursday against Vanderbilt. He has a 4.2 yard-per-carry average in his career, but last season managed just 3.5 yards per carry. He also has 18 career receptions for 192 yards.
Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner, who remains atop the Gamecocks No. 1 tailback, according to Muschamp, has seen a change in Williams in the last three weeks.
“Dave at first, he was kind of struggling a little bit,” Turner said. “I have just really been seeing him picking up the intensity and actually trying to do what the coach has been telling him to do. I’m proud of him. He’s moving forward definitely.”
Williams’ progress may cut into Turner’s time on the field, but Turner is rooting for him, he said.
“I am all for my teammates. I want them to try to beat me out because I know that’s going to make me play harder, going to make me compete and I love to compete,” Turner said.
Williams said he still believes he can win back the starting job in time for the Vanderbilt game. If not, hopes to earn the bulk of the carries when he does get on the game field.
“I feel like they are going to go with the hot hand,” he said. “Whoever in the game is getting the most production out of their carries is going to get the carries. That’s up to me to try to make the best of what I get.”