STARKVILLE, Miss. — Aeris Williams is feeling like a high school senior again, and that’s a good thing for Mississippi State — very good.
That’s because Williams, a former prep star at nearby West Point High School, thrives off confidence. He generated a heavy dose of it last season, when he tallied 720 yards rushing on just 137 carries, and continues to build off last year’s momentum this spring. Coaches and teammates are both taking notice and doling out praise as Saturday’s Maroon and White scrimmage approaches.
And if the rising junior’s high expectations for 2017 come to fruition, the Bulldogs could very well have another 1,000-yard rusher on their hands.
“My confidence is way up there, man,” Williams said Thursday. “I know what I’m capable of doing. I think the coaches know what I’m capable of doing. I just got to go out there and show the world what I’m capable of doing.
“They haven’t seen half of what I can do, I promise you that.”
The good mojo that’s guiding Williams traces its roots to last fall, when he began devoting more of his time to learning the intricacies of Dan Mullen’s spread offense. As the season wore on, Williams’ preparation led to more opportunities, which eventually resulted in a few big-time performances.
The first came at BYU, where Williams rushed for 82 yards on 21 carries against a stingy Cougars defense. Then came a huge 140-yard day in the upset win over Texas A&M. His 191-yard, two-touchdown romp against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl put an exclamation point on his breakout sophomore campaign.
“I remember asking him what was the difference,” position coach Greg Knox said. “He basically said, ‘I started putting in more time, I started studying. And I started getting better.’ When he started learning what was going on, things started to click easier for him.”
The departure of seniors Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert has produced a different dynamic in the Bulldogs running backs room this spring. Besides Williams, only junior Dontavian Lee and sophomore Nick Gibson have contributed; injury sidelined Alec Murphy, while 4-star signee Kylin Hill doesn’t arrive until the fall.
That set of circumstances gave Williams more leadership responsibilities almost by default. But it’s a role Knox says the outspoken runner is assuming well.
“I thought he’s improved a lot. I thought his leadership has shown up,” Knox said. “He’s doing a great job of being a leader not only on the field but off the field in the meeting room. I think he’s had a really good spring.”
Regardless of what happens during the spring game, Williams should enter summer workouts as the de facto favorite to co-lead Mississippi State’s ground attack. Dangerous dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who rushed for a team-high 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, has already proven himself more than dependable.
Williams has no doubt he can become the perfect backfield complement to Fitzgerald this fall. He’ll assure you of that himself.
“I’m a workhorse. They can put whatever on me, man. I’m going to take care of my business,” he said. “I’m going to step up to the plate. I promise you that.”