Nobody is more surprised by St. Thomas Aquinas senior Nick Williams’ workload and effectiveness as a running back this season than Williams himself. So far this season, Williams, a converted wide receiver, has 74 carries for 402 yards – a 5.4 yards per carry average – with five touchdowns. He also has eight catches for 122 yards and another score as the top performer in the unbeaten Saints’ offense.
“I didn’t expect to have this kind of season at all,” Williams said. “Maybe I just didn’t set high enough expectations for myself, but I’ve gotten a lot more touches than I expected. I think in two games, I’d had the same amount of production as last year altogether.”
Injuries account for part of that as Williams has been forced into the feature back role for Aquinas coach Mike Thomas, whose preseason plan called for junior Joel Edwards to split carries.
In fact, Edwards and Williams did split carries almost evenly, and with matching production, against Blue Valley Northwest in the season opener before a foot injury sidelined Edwards the last three weeks.
“With the injuries we’ve had, he’s been forced to be our every-down back,” Thomas said. “It’s harder for him now, because we like to move him around and make the defense react to wherever he’s at. We’ve done that some – I saw the (BV) West linebacker point him out one time last week when we put him out at receiver – but hopefully when we get everyone back healthy, it will help Nick be even better.”
Fortunately for the Saints, Williams added 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason, making him better suited to handle the weekly pounding he’s now receiving.
“This summer, he really got in the weight room and worked, which made him bigger and stronger,” Thomas said. “It’s helped make him a better player. He is considerably stronger, but he’s still very quick. That’s his biggest asset.”
Now 5 feet 8 and 170 pounds, Williams, who also starts at cornerback and admits to being more sore as a two-way starter than he remembers being last year, has noticed that he doesn’t go down as easily anymore.
“What surprised me most about Nick, he’s a guy who’s better in space out on the edge, but we’re running him right between the tackles and he’s still very successful,” Thomas said. “Of course, that’s a credit to the line, too.”
Williams not only fuels the Saints on the field, but he epitomizes the team, which was chosen seventh among eight teams in the preseason East Kansas League coaches poll yet finds itself as the league’s last undefeated squad.
“We weren’t picked to do this well,” Williams said. “I always thought we had the potential, but everyone is starting to see that now. It’s been nice to surprise some teams, but we don’t mind being the underdogs. It’s been paying off for us. The main thing is we can’t get cocky and full of ourselves. We can’t take anybody lightly, even if we’re picked to win by a lot now.”
The Saints, 4-0, picked off a pair of 2-2 teams – BV Northwest and BV Southwest – to open the campaign before traveling to Salina Central to deliver a crushing 35-14 win.
But the real eye-opener came last week as Aquinas outlasted BV West 38-35 in triple overtime in a battle of unbeaten teams.
The Saints actually controlled much of regulation before a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Jaguars, but Thomas’ crew then showed incredible guts in claiming the win anyway.
“We’re a lot closer this year,” Williams said. “Before, during the last couple years, we were all going in different directions, but the theme this year is family. We’re sticking to that.
“We’ve been playing well, and I hope we can keep it up. We’re really close and we have a lot of athletes with a lot of potential. A lot of the guys don’t even know their own potential yet, so there’s room to improve and grow.”
Williams used to be in that group, but his confidence grows each week successful week. It’s the same for the Saints.
“We’re probably facing more pressure now that we’re 4-0, but I think we’ll be able to handle it,” said senior Dan Morin, who starts at left tackle and defensive tackle. “We knew we were better than we played the last couple of years, but we’re more of a team now, and we felt like we were going to be pretty good. We were underrated before the season, and I think we’ve been able to prove that.”
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