A change in Miyan Williams isn’t difficult to detect ahead of his third year in scarlet and gray.
Notoriously tight-lipped during media appearances amid his first two years of college football, the Buckeye running back seemed more at ease than ever as he spoke with reporters after a preseason practice last week. Williams’ willingness to let his guard down coincides with a concerted effort to become more of a vocal leader for Ohio State in 2022, and that’s to say nothing of the physical changes he’d made over the offseason.
Earning nicknames like Meatball and Porkchop for his naturally stocky build, Williams said he modified his diet to lose weight while continuing to add strength over the past several months. The changes have been evident to running backs coach Tony Alford and Williams’ Buckeye teammates, and everything Williams has done is no doubt in pursuit of a career-best campaign – even if he won’t be RB1 for Ohio State.
If you ask Williams, usurping TreVeyon Henderson as the Buckeyes’ starting running back isn’t exactly his chief focus. Perhaps that speaks to his maturation process as much as anything else.
“I don't think none of us (running backs) are really focused on like beating each other out. We're just trying to build each other up and whoever gets the chance to go in there, we just cheer them on,” Williams said Friday. “And then when it's our turn, we just keep the training rolling, try to help the team win. … I know everybody else, we're all just trying to win the natty. That's my goal right now. Win the first game, win every game of the season, beat the team up north, win the Big Ten, win the natty.”
Through the first two games of his 2021 season, the Cincinnati native appeared as though he might just be the top back on the Buckeye roster. Williams had 125 yards on just nine carries in Ohio State’s season opener against Minnesota and finished with 115 total yards on 15 touches the next week against Oregon.
But Williams didn’t play against Tulsa despite being listed as available for the matchup, which opened the door for a record-setting 270-yard performance by Henderson. The true freshman never looked back thereafter, setting several other first-year Ohio State records while maintaining an iron grip on the starting job for the rest of the season.
Williams missed three games with injury but still wound up with 508 rushing yards on 7.2 yards per carry – tops on the team – by season’s end. Henderson may steal most of the headlines among Buckeye rushers, and with good reason. But with a career average of 7.1 yards per carry, Williams has been highly productive when he gets his chance to make plays.
“Me just running through people started when I was younger. I used to have anger problems, so I used to just get the ball and just try to go hit somebody.”– Miyan Williams
Perhaps overshadowed, Alford said Williams is far from underappreciated in the Buckeye program.
“I know in recruiting when we got him, some people said – I mean I've heard it all – people ask the questions like, 'Well, why is he not this? Why would you want this guy?' So I mean, Miyan is not underappreciated by anybody in our building, not by me,” Alford said Friday. “Shoot, I most certainly appreciate everything that he's given to the program.
“Does he need improvement in areas? Sure. But so does C.J. Stroud, and he's a Heisman candidate. So does Tony Alford, the running back coach. We've all got to improve, and finding those ways, finding where we need to improve, and not just saying you must improve here, but how? How do we get there? Don't just tell me the problem, tell me how we're gonna fix the problems and enhance ourselves. And we've done that, we've spent numerous, numerous hours in conversation and he's done all the things thus far that we've asked him to do.”
A recommitment to taking care of his body was vital among Alford’s expectations for Williams this offseason, given the injury issues he dealt with last season. The 5-foot-9, 225-pound back worked with the team’s nutritionist to “stop eating just bad food,” and he said that was the biggest factor in his ability to lose six pounds of bad weight over the past several months.
Alford said that effort has shown Williams is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good of the team, which in turn affords him more respect in the locker room and perhaps more opportunities on the field.
“It's all about that brotherhood we talk about, that trust and that faith. And then I know that that guy, I can count on him and I can depend on him and accountability issues of, how do you know? Well, look what he just did to his body. That wasn't easy,” Alford said. “It's not easy to transform your body that way and that took time and so I think with this with his team, they can look at that and say, 'OK, here's what he's doing to better serve the football team, the football program.' And for him, hell I put in all this work, let's not have that go for not. And so I think it's beneficial to everybody and obviously not just to the players, but to the coaches too.”
Despite losing weight and getting faster over the offseason, Williams said the Buckeyes plan to use him as more of a situational power back in 2022, bringing him in on short-yardage third downs to fight for first downs. He has displayed his ability to bust big runs to the second level on several occasions, and his yards per carry average proves he’s more than capable of routinely ripping off chunk yardage.
Still, Williams said Henderson and redshirt freshman Evan Pryor are viewed as “the breakaways” among the Buckeye running back trio. Plus, even at 5-foot-9, Williams’ aggressive running style and ability to bounce off (and run over) defenders makes him the most natural fit of the bunch for the role of power back.
Williams said his mom put him in football in the first place to deal with his hot temper as a kid, but that he’s since channeled that into his on-field demeanor.
“Me just running through people started when I was younger. I used to have anger problems, so I used to just get the ball and just try to go hit somebody,” Williams said. “But as I got older I learned how to control my anger. And then people still think that I run angry, but it's not. I'm just running, it's just what I've been doing. … I gotta make the defense feel me. But it's not like I'm angry. Because if I'm angry, then my head will just be everywhere. But I just try to have fun with it. So that's what I like to do, is have fun.”
Williams’ favorite play of his career thus far is one in which he got to demonstrate that angry style of play, running over Clemson safety Nolan Turner as part of a bruising 15-yard gain in the Sugar Bowl in 2020. Williams said the play was “unreal” and got him “discovered” at Ohio State, and he hopes to add plenty more like it to his highlight reel come 2022.
Can we discuss Miyan Williams pic.twitter.com/r6Si6Hs6zq— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) January 2, 2021
Williams won’t get 20 carries per game, barring an injury to Henderson at the top of the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean his role won’t be an important one for Ohio State. In losses to Oregon and Michigan last season, the Buckeyes struggled to run the ball effectively in short-yardage situations, and picking up tough yards is exactly what Williams has been tasked with doing as a redshirt sophomore.
While he likely views himself as more of a complete running back than his role indicates, Williams knows how crucial it will be for Ohio State’s national championship hopes to be able to pick up yards on the ground when the Buckeyes need them most. Given his team-first approach and increased leadership efforts ahead of this season, Williams is glad to be a key part of that pursuit in 2022.
“With our team, we have to run the ball. Because our defense, they'll get the job done and the passing game is amazing,” Williams said. “We all feel like we got the best running back room, so we got to run the ball.”