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Charles Williams sees clear path as UNLV’s latest stellar back

Updated September 11, 2019 - 6:52 pm

When he recalls the instant, the only time he has succumbed to serious injury on a football field, Charles Williams envisions scripture.

It is Matthew 6:22-23, and talks about if our vision is clear, then our body will be full of light; but if it is poor, it will be full of darkness.

The junior Williams, literally and spiritually, seems to be seeing things quite well right now — in life and the holes created by those blocking for him.

Lost in UNLV’s stunning 43-17 home loss to Arkansas State on Saturday — not that the Rebels got beat but in the disappointing manner in which it occurred — was a second consecutive 100-yard plus effort from the program’s latest talented running back.

As poorly as UNLV has performed over the decades, and there is a tomb’s worth of evidence, the Rebels have time and again discovered competence from those carrying the ball.

Mike Thomas in the 1970s. Kirk Jones and Ickey Woods in the ’80s.

Omar Love in the early 1990s.

Joe Haro after that, and Dominique Dorsey after him.

Tim Cornett (2010-13) is the program’s all-time leading rusher.

Lexington Thomas (2015-18) ranks second.

“I’m just trying to make all those guys proud,” Williams said. “Live my life as the scripture says, with a clear plan and vision.”

A week after he rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries in a season-opening blowout of Southern Utah, the native of Fresno, California, had 19 carries for 168 yards with a score against Arkansas State.

He carried 12 times against Howard in the 2017 season opener, but on one particular play, he went one way, his right foot the other and a ligament in his ankle snapped. The 5-foot-9-inch Williams wouldn’t see the field again that season, a mountain of dismay given he had set the school’s freshman rushing record with 763 yards the previous year.

It was during his way back, through the pain of rehab and a 2018 season that saw him gain 332 yards in 12 games as he sat behind Thomas and others on the depth chart, that Williams began more and more heeding the wisdom of Sean Manuel, the team’s director of strength and conditioning.

It was Manuel who introduced Williams to Matthew 6:22-23.

“Charles is very jovial, a fun-loving guy,” Manuel said. “Lots of energy and enthusiasm. I tell him all the time that the only one who can stop him is himself. You can have adversity and look at it with frustration and bitterness or with optimism and hope. These are things people face every day. They have a chance to gain some perspective on things. He responded to it the right way.”

Williams always has been about speed. I mean, he can fly. He was 175 pounds when first stepping on campus and 185 by last year and now is 195, saying he thinks he can play at around 200 and remain just as quick.

“To be honest,” he said, “I think I’m faster now than ever.”

Learning the position

But like many backs who arrive to college in a blaze, learning the complexities of the position is an entirely different matter, like accepting that many runs are designed for specific purposes.

Like understanding while the goal might be to get to the house every play, it sometimes takes more than a few trips through the neighborhood.

One such example came in the season opener two weeks ago, when Williams was supposed to run power at an inside gap but tried bouncing outside.

It didn’t work so well.

“It just takes patience in learning what the right decisions are — knowing that every play is not a touchdown play,” said Rebels coach Tony Sanchez, whose team plays at Northwestern on Saturday. “You don’t always run to space.

“The thing with (Williams) is, everything is about going a million miles an hour. His is such an A-type mentality. Getting him to slow down and be patient is key, but he’s there. It took a couple years. But he has developed the vision and now understands blocking schemes — where is the ball meant to go, to see the defense and who you’re reading to make that next cut. He’s getting it all.”

Strong in mind and body, free of the only serious injury of his career, his vision seems pretty clear.

Given what we saw against Arkansas State, UNLV needs it to remain so.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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