LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With every step he took, every hard-earned yard he gained, and every would-be tackler he trampled on the way to his 2,000-yard season, Andre Williams seemed to blaze a trail for the Boston College football team.
After averaging 520 yards rushing over his first three seasons, Williams made a strong finishing kick as a senior, becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher.
When he helped guide the Eagles to a 7-5 campaign and a berth in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., BC’s first postseason berth since 2010, Williams was showered with accolades: unanimous first-team selection to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference squad, 2013 first-team Walter Camp All-American, and Harry Agganis Award winner.
Now add the Doak Walker Award to Williams’s résumé.
Williams, the nation’s leading rusher who averaged 175.2 yards per game and compiled the ninth-best rushing season in the history of the Bowl Subdivision with 2,102 yards (to go with 17 touchdowns on 329 carries), was recognized Thursday as the nation’s best running back as he was named the 2013 recipient of the Doak Walker Award during ESPN’s Home Depot College Football Awards show at Disney’s Boardwalk Hotel.
“It’s an awesome thing,’’ said Williams, a rugged 6-foot, 227-pounder from Schnecksville, Pa., who became the first running back in BC and ACC history to receive the award. “God has just shown me a lot of favor, shown BC a lot of favor, and I’m glad that I could represent BC well and go out on a high note.’’
Williams, a Heisman Trophy finalist, topped a pair from the Pac-12 Conference: Washington’s Bishop Sankey and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s No. 2 rusher (156.0 yards per game), whom Williams will square off against in BC’s bowl game Dec. 31.
“They’re really great guys,’’ Williams said. “Bishop, he seems like a quiet, smart guy, just like me. And Ka’Deem just has a lot of energy. He has a vibrant personality, so they’re real cool guys.’’
Williams, an applied psychology and human development major, graduated early in 3½ years. Williams’s graduation ceremony conflicted with Thursday night’s awards ceremony. The show’s host, Chris Fowler, presented Williams with a mortar board.
“I can’t even believe I forgot about that,’’ Williams said. “Tonight was supposed to be my graduation as well. That was part of the mission, too. It was to graduate early so I could free myself up for next semester, so I can really concentrate on moving on to the next level.
“Tonight, it just felt like I was being honored as an athlete and as a student at the same time. It felt great.’’
Williams was joined at the ceremony by his older brother, Ervin Jr., and BC running backs coach Al Washington. BC coach Steve Addazio was in Shreveport with Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez for a press conference.
Washington beamed with pride when he watched his protégé approach the stage at the Atlantic Dance Hall. NFL great Calvin Hill presented the award.
“This is incredible for him to experience this, his senior year, it doesn’t get any better,’’ Washington said. “To see him go from last year to this year, it’s pretty neat. This is something that will help us recruiting and help our program and help us evolve and get back to where we were and move even further. So it’s pretty surreal.’’
Williams set an example for those who will follow in his footsteps, namely freshman running backs Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse.
“You talking about my two sons, Myles and Tyler?’’ Williams said, jokingly. “I’m glad that I could be a real role model for them. I just hope that they enjoy their four years.’’
Said Washington, “It was pretty funny, but I was teasing one of the other [BC] coaches that I’m like skewed for the rest of my life because I’m going to expect every running back I see to do what he’s done. The young guys are expected to do well — Myles and Tyler — but they have a new standard now.’’
Williams will travel to New York City on Friday as one of six finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
He will be joined at Saturday night’s presentation ceremony at the Marriott Marquis by Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, named the Maxwell Award winner Thursday as the college player of the year; Auburn running back Tre Mason; Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, last year’s Heisman winner; and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman favorite who won the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award here.
“I’m glad I got to come here and experience this because I know that New York is going to be on a whole other level,’’ Williams said. “It’s just great to have this experience. I’m going to be traveling with some of the same people I was with here, so it’s great to just meet them and set things off on the right foot.’’