Kansas football position units: No. 4, running backs
It's tough to know how well a high school football player's statistics will translate to Big 12 competition, so it's wise to guard against reading too much into them. Yet, when you watch the highlight reel of running back Dominic Williams from Independence High in Frisco, Texas, and then look up his numbers, it's impossible not to grow excited about his prospects.
A shifty, 5-foot-9, 186-pound, four-star running back, Williams averaged 9.6 yards per rush, ran for 2,091 yards in 12 games (174.3 yards per game) and 29 touchdowns.
Nothing about the way Kansas head coach David Beaty talked about Williams on signing day did anything to dull the excitement about the prospect of watching Williams carry the football for Kansas.
"Dom has been committed to us for 16 months," Beaty said. "Man, there are so many great kids in this class. This one is the one I have to take my hat off to more than anyone because of what he’s done to build this class, to really draw attention to the Jayhawk Nation and what we’re trying to do here. And he stuck with us when people came knocking every day. Every day there was somebody big coming to knock on his door. But he believed in it. He saw the vision and he knows what’s going on here."
More than Williams' loyalty has Beaty jacked.
"Not only that, he’s dang good," Beaty said. "This dude can roll and he can run. He’s got terrific ball skills, but man, he is a true, true back who can do a lot of things, one of the most productive guys in the state of Texas this year in a very difficult league. This guy’s side-to-side movement and his acceleration are exceptional. Not only that, his ability to break tackles, he can do it in any and all ways. I love his vision. I love the way that he finds a way to get to the end zone."
Beaty then made a comparison to a great back, but made sure to douse the comparison with caution.
"He reminds me a little bit, a little bit, of the Cowboys' guy because of his ability to accelerate and get to the edge fast like when he sees a hole," he said, meaning Ezekiel Elliott. "He can get there (snaps his fingers) and that thing doesn’t close on him. The other thing he does is make effortless cuts. Not everybody can do that. This guy to me is going to be a guy who we will circle for a long time as maybe one of the stars of this class. . . . We’re going to be handing him the ball a lot. Fired up about that dude!”
Beaty also is fired up about Octavius Matthews, a 6-1, 200-pound signing day surprise. A teammate of quarterback Peyton Bender at Itawamamba Community College, Matthews will be used as a running back who sometimes motions out of the backfield and lines up split wide. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry for a two-season rushing total of 1,453 yards. He also caught 28 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. Auburn and Louisville offered him scholarships, but he decided to join his quarterback at Kansas.
Sophomore Khalil Herbert, a fast, shifty back who runs low to the ground, and junior Taylor Martin, starting to figure out how to use blockers in order to take advantage of his exceptional speed and good size, join the two talented newcomers.
It's difficult to say which of the four backs will lead the team in carries, but it's nice to have that many talented options, especially now that running backs are sidelined more often than ever because of increased awareness of concussions. All four backs make defenses account for their speed.
Senior Denzell Evans, in his second season at Kansas after a pair at Arkansas, was used sparingly last season and mostly as a short-yardage back and special teams player. He never hung his head about the lack of carries and took great pride in his special-teams contributions.