By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Barely two weeks since having his world rocked by the death of his father, Iowa running back Leshon Williams is doing what his father would’ve have wanted him to do.
“Unfortunately, it’s hard,” Williams said at Tuesday’s weekly player interviews. “But you can’t do anything about it. You’ve just got to keep living. You’ve just got to keep working hard and keep striving to reach your goals.”
Williams was among a handful of Iowa players that were made available to the media on Tuesday.
The third-year sophomore answered all sorts of questions about Iowa’s struggles on offense, about Saturday’s game at Illinois, about fan frustration, and he also addressed his father’s death when asked about it.
It was a serious jolt, but life goes on for Williams.
He will honor his father by working to get the most out of his potential just like he did before his father passed away.
Williams took some time away from football to grieve with his family, and to honor the memory of his father.
He didn’t play against Nevada on Sept. 17 because he returned home to attend his father’s funeral.
But now Williams is back in the grind and focused on just trying to improve each day.
His life revolves around being an Iowa football player, because when combined with his academic responsibilities, it’s almost like having a full-time job.
It’s easy to forget, or overlook the amount of time, effort and focus that it takes to play big-time college football.
Williams is fortunate to have his family back home in Chicago to help with the grieving process, but also his Iowa football family.
Losing a parent never is easy, but to have it happen when you’re in college would seem especially tough because you’re now preparing for a future in which a key figure will be missing.
So, it helps to be a part of something as big as Iowa football.
Williams is proud to be an Iowa football player, and that pride was on display Tuesday.
He knows that fans are angry and frustrated in the wake of last Saturday’s 27-14 loss to Michigan, and he knows that the struggling Iowa offense is being blamed for it on social media and everywhere else.
“If you’ve got a weak mind you might want to stay off Twitter,” Williams said. “Fans are going to be crazy regardless. They’re going to love you. They’re going to hate you. Whatever you do, the littlest things they’re going to harp on. Oh my God they’re falling apart. They’re doing this, they’re doing that. And then you do something good and they forget about it like this.
“Of course, it’s just blocking out that noise. At the end of the day, we know what we’ve got in this building. We know how close we are to being a great team. So, it’s just block out the noise, truthfully.”
Williams truly believes that the Iowa offense is improving and that’s what he should believe.
Fans can criticize and complain all they want, but the Iowa players have a job to do.
“I feel like that’s how everybody in the building approaches it that way,” Williams said. “We know how it goes, the highs and the lows. This is the Big Ten, and it’s division one football. It’s not going to be all sunshine.”
Williams then mentioned that Missouri almost upset Georgia this past Saturday in Columbia, Missouri.
Georgia was ranked No. 1 at the time and is the defending national champion.
“The top team in the nation, they’re going through some stuff,” Williams said. “Georgia almost just lost to Missouri, and all the sudden everybody is oh, Georgia is not blah, blah blah.
“But how do you know Missouri isn’t good?
Williams appreciates the fan support, and he made a point to say that on Tuesday.
But he also appreciates his teammates and coaches and would defend his team under any circumstance.
“To the outside world, we probably look like we’re falling apart,” Williams said. “But we’re all good. I don’t pay attention to that because I know what we have in the building, and I know what’s really go on out on the field.”
A frustrated fan would counter by saying that Iowa’s statistics on offense point to a serious problem, and there is no denying that with Iowa ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense, rushing offense and passing offense.
But to expect an Iowa player to acknowledge that narrative, and to dwell on the negativity would be unreasonable.
Even if Williams did think the offense was in serious trouble and incapable of getting better, he certainly wouldn’t say it to the media.
What he said Tuesday seemed genuine and heartfelt.
Williams still believes that the offense is moving in the right direction, and that’s what he should believe.
“I feel like our confidence is very high,” Williams said. “We know what we’re capable of. Of course, you don’t want a loss. But it’s football. It happens. We’ve just got to move to the next week. You can’t live in the past. That would make the next week even more of a worry. So, you got to move on and continue to push forward.”
Williams tries to keep things related to football as simple as possible, because after all, it is just a game.
“I’ve been going like that since my freshman year,” Williams said. “I look at it as the same. Nothing has changed. Catch the ball. Run a route. Run the ball hard and protect the ball. At the end of the day, it’s still football. Nothing changed, just a different team, probably everybody bigger and faster. But at the end of the day, it’s still football.”
Williams has started three games this season and is second on the team in rushing with 204 yards in four games.
True freshman Kaleb Johnson has seen his playing time increase with each game, and right now Iowa has three running backs sharing the load with Gavin Williams (no relation) also part of of the mix.
Leshon Williams was asked about Kaleb Johnson’s potential on Tuesday, and he gave a rousing review.
“The kid is fast and he’s real smooth when he runs, good cuts and good natural instincts,” Leshon Williams said of 6-foot, 212-pound Johnson. “He’s a real big back and I feel like he can do a lot of things in the run game.”
If Leshon Williams feels threatened by Kaleb Johnson’s emergence, Williams sure didn’t show it on Tuesday.
He raved about his new teammate as any good teammate would do because they’re both working for a common goal.
Former Iowa offensive coordinator Don Patterson said Monday on the Hawk Fanatic radio show and podcast that he believes Iowa will be victorious at Illinois on Saturday and he based his faith and optimism on the culture and character within the program.
Patterson didn’t mention any particluar players, but he could’ve been talking about somebody like Leshon Williams who’s not about to let a little adversity on the field get in the way of progress.
Leshon Williams fits the mold of an Iowa player under Kirk Ferentz in that he was lightly recruited coming out of high school.
Iowa gave him a chance, and he will forever be grateful.
He shows that gratitude by staying the course, even in the face of tragedy, and by staying optimistic and committed to the cause.
“I know what we have in that building,” Williams said. “I know the character on this team. We’re so close to being a great team. And we won’ stop working until we get there.”