The Columbus Dispatch

Williams has given jet fuel to Alabama run

- Bennett Durando The Tuscaloosa News USA TODAY NETWORK

INDIANAPOL­IS — A flash of neon green on the opposite side of the field signaled to Arvell Ferguson that his job was done.

He had wondered to himself moments earlier as coach Cory Patterson called the play, “How is he going to get the handoff with a cast?” Now Ferguson could only shake his head at his naivete: Of course all Jameson Williams needed was one arm and two legs.

Ferguson hated blocking for Williams. The Alabama receiver is a lanky 6-foot-2 now, but he was one of the shortest kids on his little league team.

“When I tell you he was a twig, I mean, he could get picked up by a gust of wind,” Ferguson said. “He didn't want to take any hits, so when he would catch a pass or get a handoff, he would run side to side to side of the field. It's like he's playing tag, and nobody can catch him.”

That included Williams' own offensive linemen, who feared penalties from all the east-to-west movement. But that day, as the streak of a neon cast soared by Ferguson's periphery, he was reminded that “you didn't really have to do anything. Just sit back and watch the show.”

Williams was gone for a touchdown. Unbothered by a broken arm, he had made another victim of his coveted jet sweep.

When Alabama faces Georgia in the College Football Playoff championsh­ip Monday, Williams will be Georgia's focus. His 1,507-yard breakout junior season has turned him into a consensus top-20 draft pick.

But a year ago, he was a depth option for Ohio State, catching one pass in a national championsh­ip loss to Alabama. During college recruitmen­t, Williams and his dad, James, often had heated arguments about the best choice for his future. James Williams thought Alabama was a better fit.

“I haven't seen him more locked into the game plan like this since he played for his little league coach,”

James Williams said.

That was Patterson, who is now the running backs coach at Illinois. Patterson, like Ferguson, in recalling the speedster, brings up Williams' ability to execute one particular part of the game plan.

“He will jet sweep you to death,” Patterson said. The jet sweep was the foundation that built Williams' passion for football. It was his identity as a youth running back and receiver — darn near an obsession. But it worked. It put his track skills to use.

“I'd take him out of the backfield, motion him into the slot and run jet sweep,” Patterson said. “If you don't touch him before he gets out of the tackle box, go ahead and just wave at him.”

After Williams broke his arm, he wasn't always able to play through it. Antsy to be involved, he called a few plays for the offense during a playoff game. Patterson eventually had to wrestle back the reins after Williams kept calling jet sweeps for his teammates.

“It was like, ‘Man, that's not their favorite play,'” Ferguson laughed. “‘That's your favorite play.'”

Jameson's parents both ran track. They trained their three kids with early-morning workouts. Sleeping over? “If you're here, we working,” James Williams would tell his son's friends.

Williams didn't always know what to do with that speed, other than show it off. Use every inch of field width. Nobody could keep up. He was short and shifty, with a need to prove himself. The jet sweep was the perfect outlet.

Patterson's favorite Jameson Williams memory was on a rainy day. The team was playing up, facing older, bigger linemen. Williams took a handoff and was quickly smothered by two big defenders. Patterson lost sight of Williams from the sideline. Then suddenly, he “just squirts out of the pack.”

The lasting image for Patterson is as striking as the neon cast still in Ferguson's brain. This time, it was mud: “Mud up to your calves, and you just see this kid just kick every piece of mud up off the field.” The constant? Both plays, a touchdown. Both plays, a jet sweep.

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