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Notre Dame Football

Aneyas Williams Embracing Notre Dame RB Room, Competition

April 1, 2024
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Aneyas Williams has been productive since he stepped foot on a high school football field. In fact, the 5-foot-10, 203-pounder had one of the most prolific runs in Missouri prep history. 

The former Hannibal star finished high school career with 4,255 rushing yards, 3,249 receiving yards and 152 career touchdowns, which is No. 2 in state history. 

Williams didn’t get too much time to soak it in as he started classes at Notre Dame in January and Deland McCullough made sure those stats weren’t a sticking point from the day he stepped on campus. 

“Aneyas is an ascending guy right now,” said McCullough. “This ain’t Hanibal High School. This is a different deal. But he came here for that. He didn’t come here to get coddled or to be told how great he was in high school. That’s in the past. He’s embraced the criticalness in a positive way that’s associated with being a great running back.” 

The decision to enroll early was a big one, but one that’s already paying off for Williams. 

“I’m very, very pleased that I made the decision to come in early,” stated Williams. “Especially with the new OC, the new offense, you really got to sit back and take that slowly, one step at a time with that. Just being able to come in with Coach D (Deland McCullough) and work with these older guys, JD (Price), G (Gi’Bran Payne) and J-Love (Jeremiyah Love). I have three great leaders in front of me. I have people to watch and people to learn from, so that’s really nice for my journey.”

As with most freshmen, Williams has had to adapt to changes at the college level. The production at Hannibal will be in the record books forever, but it also doesn’t mean anything when he steps on the practice field in South Bend. 

“Coach Freeman has preached everyone’s journey is different,” said Williams. “My journey just so happens to be, like, since my freshman year of high school, I was able to play varsity. I was able to play. Kind of humbling myself in a way, just knowing it’s gonna happen at some point, but just a matter of time, just doing what I can has been a big thing. Just doing my job is one thing I’ve had to learn, just focus on me, focus on what I need to do and the rest will account for itself.”

Learning is something Williams has embraced and the older players have quickly made an impact on his mindset. 

There are five backs competing for carries, but they aren’t at each other's necks for carries. Instead, the room is chasing perfection as a group. 

“We just focus on perfection, like perfecting our tracks, perfecting the details,” Williams explained. “My first few weeks here, it was a lot of one-on-one work with those guys. We went over what our indy would look like at practice, so being able to be prepared for that and they helped a lot with that.

“Kind of keeping me grounded, getting me prepared for the questions that Coach D might ask, and then just really helping me with the next-level things, like, ‘If this happens, be ready to look for this.’ That way if it does happen, I’m ready for it.”

But make no mistake, Williams and the other backs want their carries. McCullough has found a way to challenge the room as individuals and as a group, but more importantly, each back has bought into his philosophy. 

“We’re all competing at the end of the day,” stated Williams. The ability for them to be able to get rid of the humility, help us and realize that we are a team and we all offer different things. But at the end of the day, it is a competition.

“McCullough, he’s big on details, discipline and accountability, and showing up. Whenever you get the opportunity, make the most of it, because reps are limited. One thing I had to learn was just finishing. Finishing every run, and then ball protection. Just big things they preached, and the older guys are honest about all the time. Even things as simple as hands on hips. Just making sure that we’re all up to date and there’s no excuses for us.”

How does Williams get on the field in 2024? It starts with learning the playbook, which Williams believes he’s close to learning halfway through spring ball. 

“I’d say I’m about 75 percent there,” said Williams. “It’s just little things, little details at this point. Getting all the signals, getting the full play, knowing what to do in certain situations. I guess Coach Freeman would say the 300 to 500-level things, knowing the next thing to do. I’d say around there, and then just starting to detail it up. Coach D grades each practice, and I’m working on getting up to 90 to 100 percent every practice.”

McCullough isn't taking it easy on his freshman back. The coaching has been hard from day one, which is what Williams wanted when he committed to Notre Dame.

“There’s things I need to correct. We’re running counter today. This is the third time he’s missed running the A gap. Now we’re starting to get a trend I gotta stop. But as far as the other things, he is really doing a good job picking up the signals, good body control as far as in pass protection, good separation, good body lean as a ball carrier. And he’s getting more and more comfortable in what we’re doing. There can’t be these peaks and valleys every day. Like any young guy, he’s gotta become more consistent.

“On Saturday, he was perfect. His coaches, his mom was calling me like, ‘I’m so happy!’ yesterday. That was one practice. But I did celebrate it. I celebrated it with him. Hey, man, shoot, you were 100% today. He ain’t been 100% since, though. Bring that back.” 

In addition to mastering the playbook, Williams has a few areas he wants to continue to enhance this spring and it starts with becoming a better pass protector, which isn’t necessarily new, but the caliber of player he’s blocking has changed. 

“Pass protection,” Williams said. “Just being able to recognize stuff, blitzes, different tracks. And then I want to say another thing is just attention to my tracks running the ball, because in college football, it’s there and then it’s gone. So just making sure I’m always on the right track and then just getting the whole play. I think that those are the big things for me, pass protection and then just being accountable and reliable.

“Kyngstonn’s (Viliamu-Asa) pretty tough.  Jaiden Ausberry is always coming full steam ahead, so guys like him. And then, every once in a while, you got the corner off the edge. Just quick, you gotta recognize it quickly. The speed change is the biggest or hardest thing for me, but you get used to it pretty quick.’” 

Williams also believes his ability to catch passes could be a separating factor when it comes to playing time in the fall. 

“I’d say that’s one of my biggest pluses that I offer,” said Williams. “I can run pretty good routes. It’s just a matter of time until I get that opportunity. And then I want to say pass protection, too, will get me on the field quick. Being able to be a third-down guy and knowing I’m someone that the quarterback can trust definitely helps with playing time.”

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