LSU’s Josh Williams: From walk-on to road warrior
LSU has a storied history successful football walk-on’s. Many have earned starting roles while others have been notable contributors.
Kevin Steltz (2003-’05) was a three-year starter at fullback and member of the 2003 National Champions. Other walk-ons-turned-starters include offensive guard Keith Melancon (1984-’86), fullback Jay Egloff (1986-’89), wide receiver Brett Bech (1992-’94; twice led the team in receiving) and linebacker Darryl Daye (1985).
Special teams dynamos to remember include Ryan O’Neal (1999-2002), Blain Bech (2000-’03), Gino Gambelluca (2002-’05), Evan Francioni (2019-’22), Daniel Graff (2008-’10) and so many others.
The 2022 Tigers feature Josh Williams. No previous former LSU walk-on running back has ever had as profound of an impact on the offense during a season.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound junior leads all running backs on the roster with 481 yards on a strong 5.2 yard average with six tocuhdowns. He only trails quarterback Jayden Daniels (629 yards with 10 scores) for team-leading rushing honors. Plus, Williams has twice earned All-SEC Academic honors with a 3.46 GPA.
Arrving on campus in 2019, Williams spent his time on the scout team and later earned a scholarship. As a two-star prospect, the Houston, Texas native drew offers from the likes of Colorado State-Pueblo, Stetson, Lafayette, Dayton and Drake. Houston, Rice, Kansas State and ULM kicked the tires but made no offers.
Williams had rushed for 1,238 yards as a senior, averaging a whopping 12.5 yards per carry. He had demonstrated the skills and desire to be a special player but FBS programs didn’t see it at the time.
Verge Ausberry was a walk on at LSU when Bill Arnsparger was the head coach in 1985. Ausberry earned a scholarship and went onto lead the Tiger defense as the leading tackler in 1988 and 1989.
Now his alma maters’ Executive Deputy Athletic Director and Director of External relations for LSU systems, Ausberry knows what Williams has gone through and recognizes the enormity of the young man’s achievement.
“He’s always been a good football player. I watched him when he arrived. I thought that he was one of the best players when he came in,” Ausberry said.
Questions about whether Williams had the required size and ability to play major college football have been answered. In fact, his physical dimensions are important to his success.
“I never looked at myself and my size as being an underdog, but I look at it as a positive,” Williams explained. “It’s something that I use to my advantage, shorter to the ground. I have a low center of gravity, so I use what God gave me to my advantage.”
Size shouldn’t also factor into the recruiting process. At times it does. LSU has had a pair of All Americans who didn’t possess the ideal physical traits.
“How about Tyrann Mathieu and Booger McFarland? They didn’t have the measurables. Recruiting is not an exact science. Tyrann was one of the best players at LSU. Nick Saban once said, ‘Recruits are like puppies. Some are hunters, some are just nice pets’. Josh has a great work ethic. He gives 100% on and off the field. He’s a hard worker, good instincts. He stays focused,” Ausberry noted.
Williams has paid meticulous attention to his craft, focusing on the little details. Understanding all of the roles a running back must play make him LSU’s most complete back.
“Coach Frank Wilson has been an amazing coach for me,” Josh said about his position coach. “He has changed a lot about the way I feel about the game, the X and O’s and how I understan everything and what technique this is, which front this is, when a blitz is coming and being able to read the safeties.”
Williams has proven to be a highly productive blocker, evidenced by the key block he threw on the 25-yard touchdown run by Daniels in the Tigers’ overtime win against Alabama.
“I know that blocking is not the most popular play, but I take pride in it because in my career blocking is how I got onto the field,” said Williams. “Showing (coaches) that I can block and do all the little detail things. That was the only way that I got onto the field, so I took that to heart, to show that I had that effort. I wanted to be a different type of player.”
Although it doesn’t play out that way, Williams believes anyone can be a good blocker. It’s all about desire.
“It’s a mentality,” he continued. “Effort and technique that coach Wilson has taught us. So much technique. We spend a lot of time at practice working on pass blocking, protections and those weird , exotic looks. I believe we’re getting the hang of it.”
Brian Kelly arrived in Baton Roge with a plan, his road map to success. The players have bought into Kelly’s program and are experiencing the results faster than most imagined.
“Coach Kelly is adamant about our process, staying consistent. We don’t rise to the occasion, we practice hard. If we stick to our process we”ll have success,” said Williams.
The 13-10 win at Arkansas that secured LSU’s place in the SEC title game was the best statistical game of Williams’ career. He totaled 122 yards and a touchdown only 19 carries. Most of that yardage required extra effort.
Speaking of effort, don’t expect any less from Williams and his teammates in their home finale against UAB. It’s business as usual, just like the Arkansas game.
“We knew going into that game we had to stick to the game plan and continue to push through. We re-set every week. We get ready for the next opponent each week. We don’t look down on anyone we play. We re-set and get ready for our next opponent, not overlooking anyone.”
It’s obvious that Williams was an ideal fit for the mentality of the new LSU regime.
“Brian Kelly is a pro,” Ausberry added. “He’s the winningest coach in college football. He knows what it takes. He’s prepared. He’s a teacher. Some coaches can scheme. Brian Kelly is a teacher. Brian Kelly, Nick Saban, they know what it takes. They’ve earned their success.”
Williams is among 10 semifinalists vying for the Burlsworth Trophy which recognizes the best walk-on player in College football. He could have a professional football career in his future as well. Perhaps Williams can carve a path to NFL success similar to Austin Ekeler, with similar skills and size.
“He’s a tough kid. Josh has all the tools. He can play 7-8 years in the NFL. He’s solid on and off the field,” Ausberry raved.
We can look ahead for him but that’s not what Williams is doing. His sights are on glory for the 2022 Tigers.
“It’s a tough task. It’s all about maturity and decisions to push that aside and focus on the next game,” Williams said. “We’re on a mission. We have goals. We’re staying consistent.”
That’s not to say the players are not thinking about the Dec. 3 meeting with Georgia. They’re just staying on task, the same way they have all season to reach this unexpected point.
“We talk about it, we know we have an opportunity,” Williams said. “It’s one day at a time.”
Among his numerous responsibilities, Ausberry is tasked with crafting the LSU football schedule. The addition of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC could complicate things.
“I think it maybe easier. The SEC will decide whether we play 8 or 9 conference games. We have to remain at seven home games. That’s what is budgeted. We will continue to play Louisiana schools, one Power 5 opponent and 2 additional games.”
- < PREV Video: Marlon Favorite at GNO Quarterback Club
- NEXT > Tulane Video: Fritz, Pratt, Spears, Anderson on home finale vs. SMU
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…