Three-star Kyren Williams looking like Notre Dame's most underrated recruit
St. John Vianney play-by-play broadcaster John Edwards struggled to articulate what he saw.
Running back Kyren Williams of St. Louis, a 2019 Notre Dame commit, shook off the hand prying his facemask, and as he cut back to the left, two Chaminade defenders whiffed and tackled each other. One more ankle-breaking move capped off an eyebrow-raising 80-yard touchdown run.
“Holy cow,” Edwards said on last Friday’s broadcast.
It was nothing new for the 5-9, 205-pound Williams, though.
“It is hard to find a game, honestly, in the last three years, where he hasn’t had two runs like the 80-yarder he had Friday night,” said Paul Day, Vianney’s head coach. “There’s a lot of it there. I could probably give you 10 minutes of clips that were pretty amazing.”
Most college coaches would agree, Day said.
“When they get in recruiting, guys are like, ‘He has 20 minutes of highlights that are typically the first 30 seconds,’” Day said. “It just goes on, and on, and on.”
Despite Williams’ production and intangibles, 247Sports and Rivals tabbed him as one of Notre Dame’s lowest rated commits at three stars. Are Williams’ confidants biased when they unanimously compare him to Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in 2018? Probably. But Williams makes a case as one of the most underrated 2019 recruits.
Williams entered the Vianney program as a 160-pound aspiring slot receiver. He listed himself as a slot receiver for camps and spent half of his high school career at the position. Once Day moved him to the backfield as a junior, offers followed.
“If he had started off as a running back, which his body was built for, he would have more stars,” said Larry Williams, Kyren’s father.
Only Nebraska offered Williams for a slot role, he said. Williams in turn agreed to a switch less than a year ago, but his former position remains important.
“Whichever school can incorporate me into both is a school I will choose to be at, and that’s what Notre Dame did,” Williams said.
Irish running back coach Autry Denson’s faith also influenced Williams. Denson includes Williams in his daily 4 a.m. texts, which are comprised of Bible verses and motivational quotes.
“When he asks about my game, he does not tell me good luck,” Williams said. “He tells me, ‘God luck.’ It’s really cool.”
Perhaps nothing stood out more to the Williams family, though, than Kyren’s official visit in June. Williams stands as the only running back commit for the 2019 class. It will stay that way come National Signing Day, he said.
“That’s what Coach Denson told me,” said Williams about their conversation this summer. “And when I heard that opportunity, I had to take that. There are not many other schools that are like that.”
The Irish could use more running backs. Dexter Williams’ unofficial suspension, along with a void at the position, forced Notre Dame to switch Avery Davis (former quarterback) and Jafar Armstrong (former receiver) to running back.
Sophomore Tony Jones Jr. shined last Saturday, but not even he has cemented himself as a long-term starter.
“Coach Denson told us, ‘When he comes up here and he shows that he’s capable of doing the things we ask him to do, I will not hesitate to put him in the game,’” Larry said.
That’s why Kyren intends on joining the Irish in January as an early enrollee. Notre Dame views Williams as a Theo Riddick type — a change-of-pace running back who motions in the slot to create mismatches.
ESPN lists Williams’ 20-yard shuttle time at 4.24 seconds, but Day said he ran a 4.11 in April. If accurate, that time would top any running back from the 2017 NFL Combine — including Williams’ idol, Christian McCaffrey (4.22).
Williams can push-press 345, bench 265, squat 405 and power clean 275. His production across four games paces him to a 1,000-yard rushing and receiving season. Williams’ 440 rushing yards came on just 33 carries, and he amassed 397 yards on only 21 receptions.
One of Williams’ 12 touchdowns came on defense. As a defensive back, Williams has four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
“Each week is a different highlight reel, because nothing is ever the same,” Edwards said. “You are not getting a one-trick pony with him, because he does different things each week.”
Edwards estimated that Williams operates 40 percent of his snaps at receiver, 35 percent at running back and 25 percent in the wildcat.
He also serves as team punter.
“If I was the head coach for another team, I’m not sure how I would defend him,” Edwards said. “Every time he gets the football, you almost anticipate him scoring.”
The Irish need Williams to develop as a pass protector. Improving in identifying and handling blitzers will allow him to play in pivotal situations and not be limited to a gadget role.
Kyren’s grandparents will accompany him on his unofficial visit next week for the Notre Dame-Stanford game. From then until January, Williams will work on polishing his running back position skills.
But only a few might notice, which is fine with Kyren.
“... I don’t really worry about the stars,” he said of his three-star rating. “I know that I’m not a three-star, and I don’t play like a three-star. All the stars and rankings don’t really matter to me, because I know what I can do.”