Andre Williams had already rushed for more than 2,000 yards heading into Boston College’s regular-season finale. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was being investigated for sexual assault, and his Heisman Trophy stock was falling.
For a few days, it looked like the BC running back might have a chance to bring home college football’s most prestigious individual honor.
Then, Florida prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Winston, removing what was seen as the last impediment to his Heisman candidacy. And Williams was injured in the season finale against Syracuse, finishing with 29 yards in the game – far short of the almost 190 yards per week he was averaging this season.
And that might have been the end of his Heisman chances.
”I was more worried about how it was going to affect our bowl chances,” Williams said this week after he was announced as one of six Heisman finalists to be invited to the award ceremony on Saturday. ”The only opportunity we really missed is being able to get that eighth win against Syracuse. I really wasn’t worried about Heisman polls.”
The nation’s leading rusher with 175 yards per game and only the 16th player in FBS history to surpass 2,000 yards in a season, Williams was already at a nearby mall shopping for clothes for the Doak Walker Award ceremony when he learned in a text from associate athletic director Barry Gallup that he was a Heisman finalist.
Williams won the Doak Walker, which is given to the nation’s top running back, on Thursday night.
Now, he has a side trip to New York for Saturday’s Heisman ceremony.
”I just feel blessed to have the opportunity to go to the ceremony and be around these other great athletes,” Williams said. ”Whoever wins it, congratulations to them, because it’s a monumental achievement.”
There was a time when running backs routinely brought home the Heisman.
They won 11 straight from John Cappelletti in 1973 until Boston College’s Doug Flutie interrupted the streak in 1984. Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders were also good enough to get their names on the trophy along with the quarterbacks and receivers in the 1980s, and four more rushers – including Ricky Williams – claimed it in the `90s.
But as teams grew more pass-happy in the new millennium, the Heisman has been almost exclusively a quarterbacking prize. Only Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram have broken through against a steady stream of quarterbacks – 11 in 13 years.
Winston is expected to make it 12 of 14 during a season in which he is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer efficiency rating (190.1) and has already set records for yards passing (3,820) and TD passes (38) for a freshman.
Williams said he doesn’t feel the need to carry the ball for ball-carriers.
”I love being a running back. I love representing running backs,” he said. ”I don’t necessarily think it’s unfair that it’s been quarterbacks high up in the Heisman contention lately. That position is hard to play. It’s hard to be good at it. With the trend toward teams playing spread offenses and throwing the ball more, that’s one of the things behind it. You have to have a good quarterback.”
But BC coach Steve Addazio said he would like to see the Heisman voters reward Williams, a senior who served as a teaching assistant for freshman seminar and is writing a novel in his spare time.
”He’s a well-rounded guy,” Addazio said. ”He’s a guy who values and cherishes his education, his opportunity to play major college football, and being part of a team. He’s got a lot of different interests just like a typical college student would have. He’s not just all focused on football.
”I think he represents what Boston College stands for. … If that’s the criteria: outstanding football player, a dominant football player, great integrity, a tremendous person and an outstanding student athlete, they’re really important. In this case that’s what he stands for.”