Kenny Williams, Texas Tech’s top rusher the past two seasons, is listed as a running back in the school’s media guide. But fall depth charts peg him as a first-team linebacker.
Both references are correct in regard to the senior who hopes to have a similar impact as a two-way performer to UCLA freshman Myles Jack last season.
Like most fans, Williams (5-foot-11, 228 pounds) was fascinated watching Jack emerge as one of college football’s most versatile weapons. Jack, a starting linebacker, ranked fifth on his team in tackles (75) but emerged as the Bruins’ leader in yards per carry (7.0) and ranked second in rushing touchdowns (seven) when forced to pull double-duty late in the season. Jack also had two interceptions and a team-high 11 pass breakups.
“I’ve watched him and I’d like to do something like that,” Williams said. “Wherever they need me, that’s where I’ll play.”
Actually, Williams envisions one-upping Jack this season. As last year’s leading tackler on the Red Raiders’ special teams units, Williams plans to contribute in all three phases in 2014. The challenge, said coach Kliff Kingsbury, will be finding enough rest for Williams to allow him to shine on each unit as Tech seeks to improve on last year’s 8-5 record.
“Kenny asked if he could do it. He saw there was a need, so we were for it,” Kingsbury said. “He’s one of our best football players and we wanted to find a way to get him on the field as much as possible. He’ll still have a role on offense and he’ll be great on special teams. But the majority of the time, he’ll be on defense. From his progress, we’re really excited to watch him this year.”
Williams, a four-star signee from Pflugerville Hendrickson High School, rushed for 3,087 yards and 33 touchdowns in high school but limited his tackling to special teams duty. He has followed the same path at Tech, where he was the Red Raiders’ leading rusher last season (497 yards, eight TDs) and in 2012 (824 yards, five TDs).
His debut as a down-to-down defender came in spring drills, where Williams earned a starting spot at outside linebacker because of his aggressiveness and 4.48 speed in the 40-yard dash. Although far from a finished product, Williams should be an asset to this year’s defense, said middle linebacker Sam Eguavoen.
“He could get a little smarter. We actually need him to get a little smarter outside when he’s lined up against those receivers,” Eguavoen said. “But it’s a good move for us. He brings a lot of physicality to the defense. He’s going to bring a lot of heart and passion. Kenny is the kind of guy who will play every down like it’s his last. We need more guys like that on defense.”
Known as a power runner, Williams rarely avoids contact as a ball carrier. As a linebacker, he said: “I like to be the one delivering the blows. It fits my personality.”
Williams said he views himself as a natural run-stopper who is still adjusting to defensive life as a blitzer and coverage man. He’s eager to test those skills against someone other than teammates Aug. 30 in Lubbock against Central Arkansas (6 p.m., FSN).
“It’s all on the table,” Williams said. “I’ll be in coverage against slot receivers. I’ll be blitzing off the edge and down the line. You never know. I bring some versatility to the fray and I think I can make an impact.”
Tech receiver Bradley Marquez said he and Williams have “a healthy competition” each day in coverage drills, with each player teasing the other when he gets the upper hand. Asked to gauge Williams as a hitter, a smiling Marquez said: “He’d have to catch me first, and I’m not making that easy on him.”
Moments later, Marquez added: “Actually, we don’t hit much in practice. But I like what I’ve seen.”
Marquez said offensive players remain excited when Williams heads to their huddle to practice packages that feature his ball-carrying skills.
“Oh, absolutely,” Marquez said. “He’s going to be doing both. He’s been our guy. He just wanted to add something to our team that we needed. He wants to help this team win.”
A year ago, Jack helped UCLA post a 10-3 record as a two-way contributor. Williams hopes to top that mark as a three-way contributor for Tech. But he knows he is one of the question marks on a defense loaded with them because only four starters return from last season.
“We won’t know how good we are until we actually step out on the field,” Williams said. “But from the looks of it, this defense is going to be really good. I’m excited.”
Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (second season, 8-5)
2013 record: 8-5
Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Central Arkansas
Key issues• For the first time in their college careers, veteran Tech defenders will have the same scheme and defensive coordinator (Matt Wallerstedt) in place in consecutive seasons.
• After having three productive QBs on last year’s roster, starter Davis Webb is the lone proven commodity at the position this season.
• The schedule is favorable for a title run, with Tech facing Oklahoma and Texas in Lubbock and meeting Baylor, the reigning Big 12 champ, in a neutral-site matchup at AT&T Stadium.
Big 12 countdown
Aug. 18: TCU
Aug. 19: Kansas
Today: Kansas State
Thursday: Texas Tech
Friday: West Virginia
Sunday: Iowa State
Tuesday: Oklahoma St.
Aug. 27: Oklahoma