By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz tends to repeat himself when talking about Iowa sophomore running back Leshon Williams.
“He’s one of those guys that looks a lot better with pads on,” Ferentz has said multiple times about the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Williams, who is from Chicago.
That’s sort of Kirk Ferentz’s way of saying that Leshon Williams is a football player, tough, fearless and determined.
He might not run the fastest or jump the highest or cut the sharpest, but Williams will do what it takes to gain positive yards.
Iowa fans saw that in the Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky as Williams rushed for 42 yards on 10 carries while sharing the position with 2020 recruiting classmate Gavin Williams (no relation), who gained 98 yards on 16 attempts.
It was the first extensive playing time for Leshon Williams, and it came due to starting running back Tyler Goodson having skipped the Citrus Bowl as a junior to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft.
“I feel it was good for both of us because we just showcased a little bit of what we can do,” Leshon Williams said of he and Gavin Williams. “And it really just boosted both of our confidence and gave us another game experience that we need.”
Leshon Williams is aware of Kirk Ferentz saying that he’s better with pads on.
Asked what he thought about Kirk Ferentz’s evaluation, Leshon Williams said:
“I just feel like I run hard and when you’re going against a defense, you’ve got to make them tackle you. You just can’t make it easy for them.
“So, I feel if you run hard great things can happen. But if you tip-toe, there’s little chance some good things can happen. But I feel as a running back, you’ve just got to run hard and just follow your blocks and run behind your pads and maybe something can open up.”
That’s what stood about both Leshon Williams and Gavin Williams in the Citrus Bowl is how hard they both ran between the tackles.
While Goodson is clearly the most explosive among the three, and was a multi-year starter, and a 1,000-yard rusher last season, Leshon Williams and Gavin Williams both have running styles that fit nicely in Iowa’s offense.
They both were effective at gaining the tough yards between the tackles in the Citrus Bowl, and that’s what Iowa needs from its running back.
That style not only moves the chains, but also helps to establish play action for the passing game.
Of course, much of what Leshon Williams and Gavin Williams accomplish next season will depend on the performance of the offensive line, which has to replace All-America center Tyler Linderbaum, who declared for the 2022 NFL Draft as a junior.
Leshon Williams gave an encouraging update on the offensive line this past Tuesday while meeting with the media to discuss spring practice.
“I feel like they’re actually moving guys off the ball,” Leshon Williams said. “They were young last year. And with (Linderbaum) leaving, I feel like there are a lot of guys that need to step up.
“But they’re actually moving guys off the ball and they’re getting the hang of everything, like mastering the inside zone and such. “
Much of spring practice is routine and repetition, but one thing has changed for Leshon Williams this spring compared to last spring.
“The only thing really different is I’m getting a lot more reps,” Leshon Williams said. “I know that I’m going to be a main part of the offense. So, now that I know that, I’ve really got to lock in and make sure that I got all my keys.”
When Leshon Williams looks back at his performance in the Citrus Bowl, he is pleased for the most part.
“I like how I ran the ball that game,” he said. “I feel like I could have made a couple people miss instead of running them over. But that’s alright. It’s just a start.”
Leshon Williams has had to be patient while playing behind Goodson and Gavin Williams. But that always hasn’t been easy because Leshon is a competitor who wants to play.
“It’s very tough,” Leshon Williams said. “I don’t think anybody who plays Division one football actually wants to sit behind anybody. But you just have to mature and just learn that the guy in front of you is good, too,
“So, just learn as much as you can and your time will come.”
Leshon Williams describes himself as a versatile running back who can gain yards under almost any circumstance.
“I’m comfortable running it all,” he said. “Outside, inside, whatever you need.”