Decision to enroll early paying off for Maleek Williams

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Thursday, April 13, 2017
Arkansas receiver Maleek Williams makes a catch Tuesday, March 28, 2017, during spring practice at the UA practice facility in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas receiver Maleek Williams makes a catch Tuesday, March 28, 2017, during spring practice at the UA practice facility in Fayetteville.

— The stat: 34.3.

That’s how many carries Arkansas’ third running backs averaged during Bret Bielema’s first four seasons. The number went as high as 56 and as low as 17, with injuries and suspensions factoring in.

Junior Rawleigh Williams and sophomore Devwah Whaley are the clear-cut top two options in the backfield, but Maleek Williams is trying to earn those third-back carries this fall.

The 6-foot, 219-pound Punta Gorda, Fla., native turned 18 in November and enrolled at Arkansas in January, skipping the spring semester of his senior year of high school to get a jump on his college career.

The decision seems to have paid off.

He was a bell cow for the second-team offense in the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage of the spring Saturday, unofficially racking up 89 yards on 18 carries. It was the first time the Hogs have tackled this spring, but Williams didn’t show any signs of trepidation. He cut decisively and finished runs in physical fashion, fighting for extra yards.

“He ran like a beast,” quarterback Austin Allen said. “I didn’t know he could run like that.”

Others weren’t as shocked.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” Whaley said. “You could see it in practice.”

Last year, Whaley began his freshman as the third back until then-senior Kody Walker went down with an injury. Williams could be in a similar position this fall. He provides a change-of-pace to the two older players in front of him.

“Maleek brings a toughness,” running backs coach Reggie Mitchell said. “Where Kody Walker was that guy for us last year, he was the hammer, that’s Maleek. Maleek is a guy that will hit it up in there, he’s physical. He runs with great pad level.”

“Maleek Williams has been a great addition to that room,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “He runs extremely hard and very determined, with toughness. He’s got good lower-body power and explosiveness and he’s got really good feel for running and feeling the tempo of things for being a freshman.”

The elder Williams and Whaley seem primed for big seasons, but there is an opening for playing time behind them, one the younger Williams is trying to take advantage of.

Junior Juan Day has worked his way back after 2 ACL tears, but the coaching staff limited him to a pair of carries Saturday. Sophomore T.J. Hammonds has the potential to be one of the more explosive players in the offense, but is spending the spring working at receiver in an effort to maximize his versatility. He seems like a good candidate to earn the third-most carries, but it’s apparent the staff wants him to be able to line up all over the field.

Chase Hayden will join the team this summer. Like Williams, he is a true freshman. But Williams has the edge thanks to arriving early.

Before spring practice began, he went through the offseason program and has worked to change his body, shedding 17 pounds after arriving on campus weighing 236.

“He’s been eating,” Whaley said. “It just all depends on what you eat. Maleek has lost the weight, he’s been disciplined. He’s doing a good job at it. He’s really emphasizing and focusing on losing weight.”

He’s been a quick learner, too. Bielema said he only made one mental mistake in the first two practices.

“We’re a pro-style offense and the pass game is the hardest thing to pick up and he’s been able to do that,” Mitchell said. “He’s a conscientious kid. He’ll come in on his own and watch film. We met on Saturdays and Sundays when he had free time. So he wants to do well.”

So does his work this spring mean he’s on a path to crack the rotation in the fall?

“Oh, absolutely,” Mitchell said. “Before Kody got hurt, we played three backs last year. So there’ll be a role for him, whether it be special teams, getting a few carries here and there. But he’s going to force us to have to play him just by what he’s shown us so far on the practice field.”


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