Off and running
Weight loss, Rawleigh injury open door
The sixth in a series profiling newcomers to the Arkansas Razorbacks football team.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Razorbacks freshman running back Maleek Williams transformed himself physically after reporting to campus in January weighing 235 pounds.
That was more weight than the coaching staff wanted Williams carrying on his 6-foot frame.
“The coaches told him, ‘Hey, you’re going to be better at 215,’ ” Razorbacks senior quarterback Austin Allen said. “In five days he lost about 8 pounds, and then he lost the rest of the weight pretty quickly, too.
“Right now he just looks like a different person from the first time I met him. He cares so much about being good. I think he’s really going to help us.”
Williams said he got down to 215 pounds by listening to Ben Herbert, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville strength and conditioning coach, and Karla Horsfall, the director of sports nutrition.
“I talked to Herb and Karla and got a plan and stuck to it,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how to manage a diet in high school.
“You’ve got to eat the right foods at the right time. Once I started doing that, the weight came off without any problem.”
“I feel good at 215. Losing the weight definitely has helped me.”
The Razorbacks are counting on Williams to provide a blend of speed and power to their running game.
“The thing that first impressed me about Maleek is that when we bench-pressed 225 pounds for baseline testing at the start of the semester, he did it 19 times,” Arkansas freshman linebacker Kyrei Fisher said. “I was like, ‘Wow, a running back did that? Welcome to the SEC.’
“It really opened my eyes.” Williams also showed what he could do on the field when he rushed 17 times for 71 yards in Arkansas’ first spring scrimmage and 18 times for 89 yards in the second scrimmage.
“Maleek ran like a beast,” Allen said. “I didn’t know he could run like that.”
What Williams did before the scrimmages impressed Razorbacks senior center Frank Ragnow.
“One thing that was really cool, on those Saturday mornings before the scrimmages, I’d go into the weight room about 6 o’clock and work out with coach Herb, and I’d see Maleek going through his steps for run progressions,” Ragnow said. “That’s not common to see from a kid that should be going to his high school prom in the spring.
“So you know he’s definitely got the want-to.”
Williams, who as a senior at Punta Gorda (Fla.) Charlotte High School rushed 163 times for 1,294 yards and 24 touchdowns, said he’s glad he graduated early so he could go through winter workouts and spring practice at Arkansas.
“It’s one thing to sit back and watch guys play college football and say, ‘I would have done this or I would have done that,’ ” he said. “But to actually be on the field and be feeling it, that’s the best learning experience you can get.
“I learned a lot about myself and what I need to work on. I would suggest early enrollment for anyone.
“I got rid of some bad habits from high school and worked on a lot of fundamental things I didn’t know about before to make some small fixes in my game.”
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Williams was sharp mentally in the spring.
“He’s very, very intelligent,” Bielema said. “I think he had one bust during a scrimmage-type situation.”
Williams worked at thirdteam tailback behind Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Waley, but he figures to play a larger role in the offense this season because of Rawleigh Williams’ decision to stop playing football after he suffered a second neck injury in the final spring practice.
“When Rawleigh went down, it was kind of a surreal moment,” Maleek Williams said. “You realize that nothing is promised — not just for Rawleigh, but for any one of us.
“At the same time, this program is going to keep going. So at running back we’ve all got to step up.”
Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said during the spring that he expects Williams to contribute this season.
“Maleek has been a great addition to that running back room,” Enos said. “He runs extremely
hard and determined with toughness.
“He’s got good lower body power and explosiveness and a real good feel for running and tempo of things for being a freshman.”
Williams said Rawleigh Williams, who will be a student coach this season, has been a mentor.
“I’ve learned so much from Rawleigh with his approach to the game, the way he practiced,” Williams said. “How relentless he was in practice.
“You could tell he always knew what was going on. I looked at Rawleigh and said, ‘That’s how I need to be.’ “
Maleek Williams was born in Jamaica, but he moved with his family to Florida when he was 5 years old. He began playing football as a sixth-grader.
“I saw other kids playing football, so I wanted to play,” Williams said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was always the fastest. I started off playing flag football, then got into tackle.”
Thaddeous Boston was an assistant coach at Charlotte High School and also worked with Williams at the Pop Warner youth football level.
“Maleek physically was ahead of the other kids playing Pop Warner, but he didn’t understand the game that well,” Boston said. “I always told him if you stay patient, as you get older and learn how to play, you’re going to get a lot better.
“He played defensive tackle at first, but then he moved to running back. He’d get the ball and just outrun everybody to the end zone. Every time he touched the ball he was going 60 or 70 yards for touchdowns.
“His game just continued to get better from there.”
ESPN rated Williams a four-star recruit and the No. 33 running back nationally. In addition to Arkansas his scholarship offers included Tennessee, Oregon, Minnesota, Kentucky, North Carolina, Colorado, Illinois and Purdue.
Williams said a major plus for the Razorbacks was Bielema’s reputation for developing running backs, including Alex Collins, another former Florida high school star at South Plantation in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Collins rushed for 3,703 yards — No. 2 on Arkansas’ career list behind Darren McFadden’s 4,590 yards — from 2013-2015 before he entered the NFL Draft after his junior season and was picked by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round.
“I didn’t know Alex, but I followed him from afar and always respected what he did in high school and at Arkansas,” Williams said. “Seeing what he did here, I could envision myself being at Arkansas, too.
“I wanted to play on a big stage and I can do that here.”
Arkansas running back Maleek Williams,
who’s lost at least 20 pounds since enrolling at campus early in January, is expected to see a great deal of playing time during his freshman season, especially after Rawleigh Williams decided to give up football after suffering a neck injury during the spring.