BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU football players like running back Darrel Williams are victims of the same temptation every other Baton Rouge resident feels: eating at Raising Cane’s Chicken Finger every day.
Primarily as a result of regularly eating at Raising Cane’s and other fast food restaurants, Williams ballooned to 235 or 240 pounds last season, well above his comfortable playing weight. It was at that point that former LSU running backs coach Jabbar Juluke gave Williams an ultimatum. And Williams had no choice but to oblige.
“[Losing weight] was really my main goal for spring,” said Williams, a 2017 senior. “At the end of last season, talking to coach Juluke, he was saying if I don’t lose weight, I wasn’t playing in the spring. My mindset was just lose weight because I knew I didn’t want to miss out on spring.”
Williams achieved his goal, trimming to a more svelte 225 pounds. He’s eating better, thanks to the guidance of Lauren Regan, LSU’s director of sports nutrition. He cut out Cane’s in favor of baked chicken and fish, a move that he said makes him feel quicker and faster on the field, without sacrificing the power he’s known for.
And that’s a good thing for LSU in more ways than one. Just a couple months removed from telling Williams was too big to practice, LSU can’t afford to practice without Williams.
With starting running back Derrius Guice on the shelf for a couple weeks with an ankle injury, LSU’s No. 1 running back reps in spring practice fell to Williams. And Williams took full advantage of his opportunities, leading the Tigers with 20 carries for 93 yards last Saturday in the team’s second spring scrimmage.
For Williams, the scrimmage was a nice indicator that he’s back to his old self. But Williams isn’t content with being “the old Darrel.” So he’s not spending the week celebrating a scrimmage well done. He’s focusing on perfecting himself from every little mistake he made.
“It was a great scrimmage overall, but I’ve still got some room for improvement,” he said. “Still on pressing to the line of scrimmage, hitting the holes better and working on my blocking a little bit.”
Hopefully LSU has some ice baths …
Williams’ LSU career is an interesting one. Despite arriving at LSU as one of the top 20 athletes in the country and top 20 prospects in Louisiana, Williams seemed destined to be the second fiddle. Any running back who shows up on campus at the same time as all-world prospect Leonard Fournette would’ve been.
But now, with Fournette headed to the NFL and Guice taking a breather, Williams gets as many reps in practice as he has since high school. A fact his body hasn’t ignored.
“It’s been a minute since I got that many carries,” Williams said. “But it’s a good feeling. I just feel comfortable and I feel like myself. I’ve had to ice down everyday. You can feel the difference.”
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In his three seasons at LSU, Williams rushed 176 times for 831 yards and 10 touchdowns, including career lows in each category as a junior in 2016. After a standout 130-yard, 3-touchdown performance versus Missouri, Williams carried the ball 27 times for 80 yards in LSU’s last seven games last season, taking the back seat as Guice broke out as a superstar.
That’s not the first time Williams watched an opportunity slip. After Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee graduated in 2014, Williams said 2015 felt like a year he was supposed to break out. But that didn’t come to pass. Fournette was one bad game away from winning a Heisman Trophy that season and Guice backed him up with an SEC-best 8.55 yards per carry, relegating Williams to third string.
But now with Fournette leaving, Williams gets another opportunity to climb the depth chart. One that he relishes, by the way.
“We all just got to come in and step in and bring what we got to the team,” Williams said. “It’s just like when Terrence and Kenny left, me and Leonard had to step up and do the best we could for this team. [As] Coach O says, one team, one heartbeat.”
Or, in Williams’ case, one team, one heartbeat, no fast food.