Before Andre Williams capped the finest rushing season in Boston College and Atlantic Coast Conference history, Myles Willis made sure he learned a valuable lesson from the Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I had a great person to follow,’’ Willis said. “He taught me how to carry it and how to be the man.”
Williams led the nation in rushing yards (2,177), attempts (355), yards per game (167.5), 200-yard games (five), and 250-yard games (four), earning him the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back, and a fourth-place finish in the Heisman voting.
Willis knows he would only be fooling himself if he expected to duplicate Williams’s success.
Replacing Williams will take a group effort, with sophomore Tyler Rouse and junior David Dudeck also getting some snaps.
But what Willis does know is he will be counted on to be option No. 1, expected to deliver when his team is counting on a big play, whether it be special teams or from the backfield.
BC took the field at Alumni Stadium Saturday for the Jay McGillis Spring Game and Willis did not disappoint.
On the opening kickoff, Willis fielded the bouncing ball at the 5-yard line and patiently weaved his way up the sideline, before kicking into his breakaway gear for a touchdown.
“When things go down you’ve got to be the person to bring the team up,” Willis said. “A lot of times you’ve got to be the guy to make the big play to spark the team.”
Sure, it was only in a spring game, but those are the types of plays that will spark the Eagles in the fall.
Willis, who had 346 yards and two touchdowns as Williams’s primary backup in 2013, also showed his skills between the tackles when he broke loose for a 40-yard gain with the Eagles offense backed up to its end zone.
He finished the game with seven carries for 75 yards, while Rouse finished with 68 yards on 11 carries, including a 41-yard TD. Dudek added 52 yards on 12 touches.
“I was telling my dad the other day, the running backs as a whole have to elevate to replace [Williams],” Willis said. “You can’t duplicate it. Dre was a special player that had an amazing season, and it’s not going to be one guy, we all have to elevate.”
Second-year coach Steve Addazio said he made sure to limit Willis’s and Rouse’s repetitions in the backfield, making sure nobody got injured.
“Both he and Tyler Rouse had a great spring,” Addazio said. “They did a lot of good things. They’re still young and will make mistakes, but they’re progressing.”
It is likely that it will take the rushing attack a few games to take shape this season.
Williams, who was a bruising back at 6 feet, 220 pounds, often rumbled through the offensive line, leveling anybody in his way. Willis is trying to improve his interior rushing game and has spent the offseason and spring packing on weight.
The former triple-option quarterback from Conyers, Ga., entered the spring game at 195 pounds after playing at 184 last season, and his goal is to bulk up to 205.
“I’ve been eating more, and I’m getting used to it. One plate doesn’t satisfy me anymore,” Willis said. “It’s two plates now.”
Whether it’s Willis or a mix of other backs, the Eagles’ success starts in the trenches.
The Eagles are returning three senior starters in center Andy Gallik, and guards Harris Williams and Bobby Vardaro. Seniors Ian Silberman, who transferred from Florida, and Seth Betancourt will fill in the tackle positions.
The line was solid Saturday, opening holes for all three backs. But with just eight offensive linemen on the spring roster, it was a tiring day for the men up front.
“We’ve been down all spring, and we just got to deal with it and keep rotating,” Vardaro said. “We’ve been working through it and getting better.”
Often times, Vardaro was looking at the back of Willis’s jersey after he darted through the holes, and was happy with what he was seeing.
“He’s a lightning bolt,” Vardaro said. “I’m looking at his back most of the time, he’s fast. With the seniors we have, we’re going to do well up front and he’ll get a lot of yards.
“Andre was a great mentor for him, and he’s not the same as Dre, size-wise, but it’s going to be a completely different game this year.”