Three years ago, a timely injury gave a young Andre Williams his first chance. The back got his first collegiate start when Boston College visited the Carrier Dome in 2010 and today, in the same building, the senior Heisman candidate’s shoulder injury helped, painfully and indirectly, pay it forward.
Late in the 2010 season, then-starter Montel Harris had hurt his knee against Virginia the week before BC’s regular-season finale at Syracuse, shutting down the star runner for the season and thrusting Williams to the front of the backfield. He broke loose for 185 yards and 42 carries on the Orange, leading the Eagles to a 16-7 victory.
“I can’t say Andre Williams surprised us, because we knew he had the ability,” senior offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo said at the time. “He just runs with no fear. It was impressive. He was running like a man possessed.”
Those 185 yards would’ve seemed pedestrian for Williams heading into Saturday’s matchup, as the senior was averaging nearly 300 yards in his last three outings before the first meeting between BC and Syracuse since his breakout day. He was one monster game away from potentially jumping to the forefront of the Heisman race, but a shoulder injury and a stout run defense derailed those hopes in a 34-31 BC loss.
Williams took a shot to his right shoulder early in Saturday’s game, and then he was never the same. The hit worsened a lingering issue, making it difficult for the back to secure the ball high and tight during runs. After a 24-yard first half—his lowest total of the season—Williams was tackled even harder during a rush to open the third quarter and was forced to head to the locker room.
Freshman running back Myles Willis knew his time might be coming.
“I’ve been preparing for it since I signed, really,” Willis said. “I was happy that it finally came.”
In order to keep Williams fresh for games and provide time to recover from minor injuries, BC head coach Steve Addazio has given most of the practice carries to Willis and fellow freshman Tyler Rouse. The rookies have gone back and forth on Shea Field and in Alumni Stadium during the week, waiting for an opportunity to prove their worth. On Saturday, they finally got their shot.
“I know I always have to be ready,” Willis said.
The freshman duo accounted for nine of BC’s 14 offensive plays in the third quarter after Williams exited, and they finished the game with a combined 77 yards. Willis said he saw confidence in the offensive linemen’s eyes when he stepped into the huddle—the same confidence the unit carries for Williams. The smaller back’s change-of-pace style helped crack a Syracuse defense that stuffed Williams’ power running consistently in the first half.
“Everybody needs a shoulder to lean on,” Williams said, “and I needed a shoulder to lean on in this game.”
When Williams realized he wasn’t going to be able to go back into the game, he grabbed Willis and Rouse and gave them a message.
“I just let them know that … I always refer to them as my sons. I just let them know that they’re capable, they’ve got greatness in their blood, and they just need to go out there and have a game.”
It was difficult for Williams to keep it together on the sidelines, knowing he had to be a spectator during the last regular-season game of his career. When he came back from the locker room he tried to get back out onto the field, but it never happened.
“There’s a fine line between playing and being on the field and being a liability, so I wanted to play it safe,” Williams said.
He consistently stood 10 yards back from the line of scrimmage when BC had the ball, keeping his helmet on as his visor hid some of the pain.
“Got emotional on the sideline thinking I might not be able to finish out my last game of the season,” Williams said. “I just tried to pull it together and make sure I could help keep my head in the game for the rest of the guys.”
Williams said the shoulder injury isn’t serious, and that he will be ready to go for BC’s bowl game in a few weeks.