With J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber firmly established as Ohio State’s top two running backs, it’s uncertain how many opportunities for playing time will be available for Antonio Williams this season.
As Dobbins will still be at Ohio State for at least the next two seasons, and a bevy of talented running backs continued to be recruited to Columbus, the clock is ticking for Williams to get his shot at becoming Ohio State’s next great running back.
But even though he enters his junior season as the Buckeyes’ likely third-string running back, with only 63 carries to his name through his first two seasons at Ohio State, Williams remains confident that his time to shine will come in Columbus.
"I think the carries will come. I really do," Williams said Monday. "I think it will definitely come. When it does, I’ll take advantage of it and do what I can do."
Williams’ third-string standing on the depth chart isn’t a reflection on his talent or effort, at least not this spring, but simply a product of the talent in front of him on the depth chart. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and running backs coach Tony Alford have both lauded Williams for his progress this spring, saying that they have seen a change of demeanor in the third-year back from New London, North Carolina.
"He’s a professional about how he handles his business," Alford said. "An extremely, extremely mature kid. He has improved. Probably, in my estimation, probably one of the top three guys on the team as far as improvement. That’s coming from me. Obviously I’m a little biased probably (as the running backs coach). But he’s had a great spring, a great attitude."
Williams has demonstrated that maturity by embracing his role as a veteran leader in the running backs room and focusing on improving himself, instead of griping or worrying about playing time.
Like any competitor, Williams wants to earn more playing time. But he wants Dobbins and Weber to have continued success, too, and he still believes all of his goals – which, ultimately, include playing in the NFL after the next two seasons – are still in front of him.
"We talk about the brotherhood here. And the brotherhood is understanding who you are and what you are for this team, and understanding that maybe like you said, I didn’t play as much so far," Williams said. "You have to sacrifice yourself a little bit, and that’s part of being a Buckeye. That’s what it is. And I’ve done that. I’ll continue to do that if I need to. But eventually I think it’s going to work out for me."
Williams acknowledged that he hasn’t always had the mentality he has now, and he still isn’t going to simply roll over and accept his place on the depth chart. Williams plans to continue to grind as hard as he can to prove that he deserves more playing time. But he’s learned how to keep himself positive, and appreciating his role for what it is, even though things haven’t gone exactly the way he envisioned when he arrived at Ohio State.
"I’ve learned to deal with things a little bit better," Williams said. "Some things don’t always happen when you want them to, obviously, but you got to persevere. You got to keep going. And that’s definitely what I’ve been doing."
“You have to sacrifice yourself a little bit, and that’s part of being a Buckeye. That’s what it is. And I’ve done that. I’ll continue to do that if I need to. But eventually I think it’s going to work out for me.”– Antonio Williams
Along with becoming more mature and a stronger leader, Williams believes he has also improved physically. Having arrived at Ohio State at 227 pounds, the 5-foot-11 running back is now down to 210 pounds, which he believes has made him a faster and more balanced runner.
"I feel a lot better," Williams said. "I feel more confident with myself. Confidence is a big part of the college game. And having that is very beneficial."
Alford has recognized that transformation in Williams, too.
"His speed and conditioning and strength levels, he’s become a much, much better football player," Alford said.
Looking back to the past two years, Williams acknowledges that there was a big gap between Dobbins and Weber and himself. But while Dobbins and Weber remain likely to see the lion’s share of playing time for the Buckeyes at running back this season, Williams believes he has closed the gap on them with his physical and mental development.
"I think I’ve had the trust of the coaching staff. I think those two guys just were so good these past two years, and the gap was pretty big, I think, I wasn’t playing to where I should have been playing at," Williams said. "But as of now, I don’t think that gap is, if it’s there, it’s not very large."
Williams knows he will have to continue to fight to earn more playing time, but he says he has been encouraged to keep working toward his goals and stay the course at Ohio State by Meyer, who has told him that “it’s never too late for anything.”
"As I’ve experienced things here in my career, some things have took a different path, but all the goals that I have for myself are still reachable," Williams said. "And I’m not putting any of those out of the window yet."