Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV football practice had been over for about 30 minutes and most of the players had retreated to the locker room. The heat on this summer day, especially when coming off the turf at Rebel Park, could have been considered unbearable.
Yet, junior running back Charles Williams was still plugging away at his craft, catching passes with a few teammates from a ball machine as he continues to embrace lofty expectations of him this season. It’s a simple narrative: For the Rebels to have a winning record, a handful of their top players — quarterback Armani Rogers, Williams, and many defenders — need to make an impact.
“We all want to go to a bowl game. To get a bowl game, we all have to eat,” Williams said. “I want to run the ball well to help the receivers get their catches and touches. I want to go off, but I also want all my boys to go off. Let’s spread the ball around. Let’s get the other running backs involved. I don’t care about the stats. I’ll be the decoy if it helps us win.”
It was just two years ago when Williams was the Rebels’ starting running back. But he was injured in the 2017 opener and redshirted, and last season logged just 65 carries for 333 yards.
The player once destined to help transform the program’s fortunes was lost in the depth chart as the fourth option for carries.
But, as Williams says, everything happens for a reason. He’s matured. He’s a better version of himself from 2016, when he rushed for a then-school freshman record 763 yards and was projected to be one of the program’s all-time greats.
“I have a grown-man mentality now,” Williams proudly says.
He’ll replace record-setter Lexington Thomas as the Rebels’ feature back — big shoes to fill, considering Thomas is the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and 100-yard games, and second in career rushing yards.
But Williams beat out Thomas as the starter in 2017 before getting hurt, and while he’s not as fast as Thomas (who ran between 4.27 and 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day), he also has elite speed. Williams was a track champion in high school.
“He has matured so much,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “Last year was a big growth year for him because there was some frustration. But it was an appropriate frustration and he handled it really well. He’s excited about taking the reins and being that guy.”
That maturity is refreshing. In a day and age when players transfer from a program when they lose playing time, Williams stuck it out. He spoke with those closest to him — “won’t name names, but they know who they are,” he says — and has dedicated himself to helping the Rebels become a winning program. Or, as he says, “the man they recruited me to be.”
When asked about the post-practice training, Williams was quick to point out that receivers Darren Woods Jr., Pat Ballard and a few others were also getting in extra work. They, too, have a similar level of unselfishness and dedication, he promises.
“It’s not about the stats,” he said. “If you get caught up in going for the numbers, it takes you out of the game. ... I wanted my teammates and everyone to feel the energy I was bringing.”
Give Williams credit: It appears he’s logged in the hours to have a successful season and is sincere about leading by example. Only time will tell if this mentality leads to a bowl game, the benchmark for success every season but massively more important in 2019 as UNLV looks for momentum as it transitions to a new stadium near the Strip.
“Charles is as intense of a guy as it gets,” Sanchez said. “He is one of those guys who by nature always feels like he has something to prove. I really think you are going to see a dynamic, hard-nosed runner.”