ago football Edit

RB Aneyas Williams is already an 'ascending player' for Notre Dame football

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Aneyas Williams is used to being asked to do a lot.

Even as a freshman at Hanibal (Mo.) High, Williams was asked to impact games as a running back. He finished his high school career as an undeniable workhorse with 168 carries for 1,415 yards and 27 touchdowns and 44 receptions for 816 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 13 games.

Williams, a four-star recruit who signed with Notre Dame in December, eclipsed 4,000 rushing yards, 3,000 receiving yards and 150 touchdowns in four seasons at Hannibal. So Williams had to prepare himself for a decreased workload at least in his freshman season at Notre Dame.

“Kind of humbling myself in a way,” Williams said after spring practice No. 6 as an early enrollee, “just knowing it’s gonna happen at some point. But just a matter of time, just doing what I can has been a big thing. Just doing my job is one thing I’ve had to learn. Just focus on me, focus on what I need to do and the rest will account for itself.”


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In attempting to set realistic expectations, Williams may have even overestimated how difficult the transition from high school to college would be. Running backs coach Deland McCullough graded one of Williams’ early practices in March with 100% achievement.

“I prepared myself for this moment,” Williams said, “so kind of taking a little bit of the weight off my shoulders and just knowing that I prepared for this moment, and now it’s just about settling down. I just noticed that [if] you overcomplicate things, it makes it worse, when really college is simple, just the speed changes.”

The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Williams had, and still has, plenty to learn about offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock’s playbook and how McCullough wants his backs to execute the responsibilities within it. That’s why January enrollment has already been meaningful for Williams. He’s able to learn alongside fellow early enrolled freshman Kedren Young, also a four-star recruit, and pick up lessons from experience running backs Jadarian Price, Gi’Bran Payne and Jeremiyah Love.

“I have three great leaders in front of me,” Williams said. “I have people to watch and people to learn from, so that’s really nice for my journey.”

Price, Payne and Love are all jockeying for their own increased roles following the departure of star running back Audric Estimé for the NFL Draft. Price, Payne and Love each played at least 100 offensive snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus, with Payne leading the group with 160.

That trio isn’t afraid to be hard on the freshman duo, but they’ve also gone out of their way to help acclimate them to the program and help build trust with McCullough. Before spring practice even began, the older backs taught them what individual drill periods of practice would be like. They know McCullough can be a stickler for details, so every ounce of preparation matters.

“Whenever you get the opportunity, make the most of it, because reps are limited,” Williams said. “One thing I had to learn was just finishing. Finishing every run, and then ball protection. Just big things they preached, and the older guys are honest about them all the time. Even things as simple as hands on hips. Just making sure that we’re all up to date and there’s no excuses for us.”

McCullough shared with reporters that Williams hit a 100% grade in the fourth spring practice. But he was quick to follow that up with the fact that Williams hasn't reached that number since then.

“Aneyas is an ascending guy right now,” McCullough said. “This ain’t Hanibal High School. This is a different deal. But he came here for that. He didn’t come here to get coddled or to be told how great he was in high school. That’s in the past. He’s embraced the criticalness in a positive way that’s associated with being a great running back. You gotta look at it with a critical eye. There’s things I need to correct.”



McCullough pointed to a counter play that Williams repeatedly missed hitting the right gap. That was a trend he needed to correct before it became too engrained in his process.

“But as far as the other things,” McCullough said, “he is really doing a good job picking up the signals, good body control as far as in pass protection, good separation, good body lean as a ball carrier. And he’s getting more and more comfortable in what we’re doing. There can’t be these peaks and valleys every day. Like any young guy, he’s gotta become more consistent.”

Williams himself identified two main areas of emphasis he needs to sharpen this spring: being a better pass protector and staying on his correct tracks with running assignments. Processing all that became a little easier last Wednesday when Williams was taking reps alongside quarterback CJ Carr with the second-team offense.

The two freshmen were some of the longest-tenured commitments in Notre Dame’s 2023 class. They camped at Notre Dame back in June of 2022 shortly before Carr made his pledge to the Irish. They can start to envision the future together.

“It kind of makes the game slow down a little bit, to be honest,” Williams said of taking reps with Carr. “Just knowing you’re right there with another guy, and having him — I don’t know, just like a comfort. Kind of just felt like home.

“We were talking the other day, right after practice. We were talking about whenever we were doing the team run and it was twos and threes, but it was all of us mid-year guys. We were talking about how cool it’s gonna be, like that senior year, when we’re all here and playing together.”


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