Off and run­ning

Weight loss, Rawleigh in­jury open door

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT MALEEK WIL­LIAMS

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.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

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.

Wil­liams

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