Michigan State running back Delton Williams (22) had 32 yards on nine carries in his season debut last weekend at Iowa. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Delton Williams wasn’t giving any hints last week, not even to his mom.
No, Michigan State’s freshman running back wasn’t about to let anyone know he had a shot at seeing his first action of the season in the Spartans’ victory over Iowa last week.
“I told everyone back home I was redshirting,” he said Tuesday.
The only thing was, Williams, who had yet to see the field in Michigan State’s first four games, had been getting more and more work during practice, dating to the Spartans’ bye week following a loss to Notre Dame.
So late in the third quarter in Iowa City with the Spartans clinging to a 17-14 lead, in came Williams, redshirt tossed to the ground.
And where was Williams’ mom, Jennifer, as her son was making his college debut?
She was at work.
“She didn’t even see it,” Williams said with a big smile. “But she heard about and texted me to say how proud she was. I know she was happy about it. She didn’t get mad. She’s coming down this weekend and if I get in this week, she’s going to see me out there playing.”
What she’ll see is the running back the coaching staff has been talking about since preseason camp back in August. Many wondered if there was a player on the roster who could come close to filling the shoes of Le’Veon Bell, who left for the NFL, and through the first four weeks there had yet to be a back truly stand out.
Juniors Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill have been OK, but the Spartans still have been seeking the big, bruising type of runner who can also be elusive.
Williams responded with nine carries for 32 yards and showed enough promise carrying the ball in crunch time that many are hoping it could be the start of something similar to what Bell accomplished.
“I think he’s just a different type of back than Langford and Nick Hill, and I think you need that change-up,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “You need the change-up in there where you’re not playing against the same guy all the time. Plus, you gotta keep people fresh, and if one guy gets hurt, then you have to go to an inexperienced guy. So it was good to get him on the field, and I think he’ll just add another dimension to our offense.”
Williams is up for the challenge and said he looks to Bell’s career as inspiration, focusing on falling ahead for extra yards and doing what he can to make the team, and the offense, better.
But when Williams did first get on the field, his coach noticed he was a bit hesitant.
“He was a little nervous,” Dantonio said. “He had to reach for the handoff, and he sort of held it a little bit tenuously.”
Williams agreed, saying he was focused but just ran with the ball instead of reading the block of his offensive line.
“When I was first out there I was a little hyper,” he said. “I wasn’t myself, I wasn’t calm and I was just happy to be out there. When I watched the film, I saw the things I could have done.”
The Spartans are hoping those things turn Williams into a star running back, a position Williams didn’t exactly specialize in during his time at Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pa.
He ran for 697 yards on 88 carries as a senior and caught 59 passes for 838 yards and 11 touchdowns. He played in the slot often as the favorite target of fellow Michigan State freshman Damion Terry.
And while Williams is sure catching the ball will come as he gets more comfortable with the offense, his focus is on more than just the football field.
“I’ve got a long time here,” he said. “I’m trying to get my degree and that other stuff will set itself up.”
Williams is majoring in hospitality business and credited his mother with emphasizing academics. He said if he happens to get a shot at the NFL, he’ll help his family out and then that could lead into becoming a business owner, maybe running a restaurant.
Until then, he’ll keep carrying the ball when his name is called.
Only from now on, there’s a pretty good chance his mom is gonna be watching.