BLACKSBURG — Shane Beamer had Virginia Tech’s entire scrimmage meticulously mapped out last Saturday — how many reps each of his running backs would get and with which unit.
But near the end of the 100-play workout in which bruising true freshman Marshawn Williams ran for 66 yards on 13 carries, tops of the running backs, offensive line coach Stacy Searels came over to lobby for the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Williams to get a few more touches.
“Stacy kept yelling at me, ‘Would you get Marshawn in the game again, please!’ ” Beamer, the running backs coach, said with a chuckle. “Because he likes watching him run.”
Everybody does, it seems. The dreadlocked early enrollee from Phoebus High in Hampton has been the talk of fans, players and coaches alike this spring, a big-bodied back who’s just as likely to dish out a hit as he is to take one.
“We all like when a running back gets in there and pounds the rock, man,” center Caleb Farris said.
“He’s already getting the reputation out there of a guy that you don’t want to be in his path or in his way when he’s running the football,” Beamer said.
For the offensive coaches whose stated goal has been to revive Virginia Tech’s lagging power running game the past few seasons, especially near the goal line, Williams might just be the back to fit the bill.
Sophomore Trey Edmunds, who broke his leg against Virginia and is sitting out spring ball, is expected to regain his spot atop the depth chart once healthy. Junior J.C. Coleman currently sits in that top spot, followed by sophomore Joel Caleb and then Williams, in a cluster of third-team backs. If Williams’ spring performance is an indication, he won’t be staying there for long.
“That will take care of itself,” Beamer said. “The thing I’ve challenged Marshawn to do and the reason I didn’t have him higher is just finishing plays, playing full speed all the time when the ball is not going to him. … We’re continuing to harp on that, the tempo and effort we want to play with every play.”
He might be a talent that’s tough to keep off the field, however. A four-star recruit coming out of Phoebus, where he ran for 2,192 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior, Williams’ offseason was delayed, despite his early enrollment, while he waited for the NCAA Clearinghouse to approve one of his high school classes.
Once cleared, he has fit right in. Listed at 224 pounds, he said earlier this spring he’s actually up about 230, 13 pounds heavier than Edmunds, 25 more than Caleb and 39 more than Coleman. While Beamer has touted the ability of those other running backs to run with power, at a certain point physics takes over, and Williams’ bulk helps.
He didn’t do much running over people at Phoebus, hoping to stay healthy. Not anymore.
“Now that I’m here, there’s no reason to hold back.,” Williams said.
Two weeks ago at a scrimmage, he stiff-armed All-ACC cornerback Kendall Fuller to the ground on a run to the outside, springing free up the sideline. Saturday, the he was credited him with 11 broken tackles in his 13 carries for 30 additional yards, the kind of yards after contact Virginia Tech has lacked since David Wilson went pro a year early.
“Marshawn can hit that pile and there might be four guys in there and he’s going to move that pile 5 yards,” Beamer said.
But it’s not just power. Williams’ running instincts belie his age. Beamer likes Williams’ ability to juke defenders, not just run them over all the time. And head coach Frank Beamer perked up Saturday when talking about the freshman’s knack for seeing a hole, making one cut and hitting it.
“This isn’t a knock, it’s a compliment, but he’s just slow enough to let it develop and see where he needs to hit it,” Shane Beamer said. “Sometimes guys have a tendency, Trey did that early on last year, you’re a little too fast. You give up on it too early.
“He’s just slow enough where he’s got a good tempo and patience about it. … And when you run the power play and you’re going right at the defense and you’re trying to go north-south, that’s right in his wheelhouse.”
He still needs to work on blocking (though Shane Beamer had a chuckle overhearing Williams say he “had it down” during interviews Tuesday). The coaches would also like to see him stick inside a little bit longer before trying to bounce some runs to the outside.
But that will come with experience, and Williams has been as dedicated as anyone in learning all the nuances of the position in the film room.
“He’s really mature beyond his years,” Shane Beamer said.