BLACKSBURG, Va. | During the first half of Virginia Tech’s football season, the Hokies learned there was much to like about redshirt freshman tailback Ryan Williams.
A list would include strength, speed, vision, great hands and great feet. Williams, from Stonewall Jackson High in Manassas, Va., was personable, chatty and animated. He was a hit with fans as much as he was with his teammates and coaches.
“Ryan Williams doesn’t care about Ryan Williams,” said Loren Johnson, the former Hokies standout who coached Williams in high school. “He just cares about running that football for Virginia Tech and helping them win games. We coaches say it all the time - he’s a good kid, not a selfish kid. That’s something I can say in this case and never have an issue with it. He cares more about that university than you can believe.”
That became evident in recent weeks. For all the Hokies and their fans learned about Williams when things were going well, they discovered perhaps the most important thing about him when things were not.
“He cares a lot, and I like that about him,” coach Frank Beamer said.
The Hokies lost to North Carolina 20-17 on Oct. 29 when Casey Barth nailed a field goal on the final play. The Tar Heels’ winning drive was set up when they recovered a Williams fumble. It was his first lost fumble on a rush of the season, and he would prefer it to be his last ever.
Despondent after the game, Williams handled his media obligations and swore he would be fine by the Hokies’ next game. He was, but getting there was not fun. Williams admitted to skipping class the day after the North Carolina game. It took him another couple of days to get his mind right.
“It was probably one of the toughest things I had to overcome in football,” Williams said. “I don’t like letting anybody down. I felt like I let the team down and the Hokie Nation who supports me every day. Sitting down and thinking, I realized I can’t be perfect. If I don’t become my regular self and let this be in the past, I won’t be able to help this team be successful. When I step on the field, that’s when I’m happiest. Football just does something to me. I forgot all about it and became my regular self again.”
Against East Carolina a week after the North Carolina game, Williams rushed for a season-high 179 yards to help Virginia Tech snap a two-game losing streak. The game showcased much of Williams’ best. The Hokies’ staff has credited him with 68 broken tackles this season, and it seemed he had that many against ECU. On one play, he got hit and knocked off-balance but managed to crab-walk his way down the sideline until he was finally stopped. He added at least 20 yards to the play.
A 5-foot-10, 206-pounder, Williams is something of a hybrid of the Hokies’ best backs in recent years. He has the strength and power of Kevin Jones and the vision and instinct - particularly near the goal line - of Lee Suggs.
Williams’ skills will be on display Saturday in College Park when the Hokies visit Maryland.
“I’ve been telling people about this guy since he came in and redshirted last year,” cornerback Rashad Carmichael said. “I think he’s the purest running back I’ve ever seen. From rec league to little league to the NFL, he’s the purest.”
“He’s natural,” Carmichael said. “You can teach a person a certain amount of things, but a guy like that? He just gets the ball and goes. It looks like he was born to do this. I love watching him run.”
Johnson said Williams is “blessed with an instinct.”