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Williams the Workhorse

After Virginia Tech’s 31-7 win over Miami on Saturday, Ryan Williams dabbed at the cuts on his arms and hands. He was still sopping wet and speckled with mud and blades of grass.

It was the evidence of a long day for Williams: 34 rushes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time he had been used so often, but he seemed comfortable with that workhorse role.

“I was ready to run the ball some more,” Williams said. “I can do it 50 times. I’m ready. If the team needs me to run the ball 100 times a game, that’s what I’m going to do. My body is prepared for it.”

Williams, a redshirt freshman, has established himself as Virginia Tech’s most consistent and dangerous offensive weapon. He is a hard runner. He is a shifty runner. He is a fast runner. As Coach Frank Beamer has said, those are “pretty good qualities for a running back.”

In his first four games as the Hokies’ starter, Williams has shown flashes of why he was one of the nation’s top prospects. He has scored eight touchdowns; the record for touchdowns by a Virginia Tech freshman is 11, set by Darren Evans last year. And Williams’s 492 rushing yards are already the eighth-highest total by a Hokies freshman.

“I’m impressed with that guy,” Beamer said of Williams, adding, “I like watching him.”

In the preseason, it was uncertain how much Williams would see the field. After Evans suffered a season-ending knee injury, Williams was among three running backs battling for playing time. Williams emerged as the starter and has proven why.

Williams ranks sixth nationally with 123 rushing yards per game. He has rushed for 100 yards or more in each of the Hokies’ last three games. He is only the second Virginia Tech freshman to do so. In 2001, Kevin Jones did it against Temple, Virginia and West Virginia.

Against Miami’s athletic defense, Williams put on an attention-grabbing show in his best performance of the season. He ground down the Hurricanes defense before breaking off a 44-yard run early in the third quarter. Williams averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

For his performance against the Hurricanes, Williams was named the rookie of the week in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He has received the honor three times in the first four weeks.

Williams showed no signs of being slowed by the left ankle sprain that has nagged him since the preseason.

“It was aching,” he said. “I wanted to take myself out a couple of times, but I felt like it wasn’t right and the team needed me out there, so I toughed it out for them.”

But for Williams, shouldering such a large workload was not a familiar feeling. In the preseason, he told reporters that he did not carry the ball as an every-down running back at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, Va. And after the Hokies’ win, Williams was banged up and showed clear signs of his long day on the field. But he did not seem too bothered.

“I got a whole bunch of bumps and bruises,” he said. “This is the most blood I’ve had. But people had to tell me I was bleeding. I was having fun out there.”

By Mark Viera  |  September 28, 2009; 1:52 PM ET
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