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A spirit that is not afraid

The rapid ascension of DJ Williams, Auburn's newest running back

<p>D.J. Williams via @AuburnA1 on Twitter.</p>

D.J. Williams via @AuburnA1 on Twitter.

This time last week, D.J. Williams was a Mountaineer.

Williams had been committed to Appalachian State since the first week of July. In fact, it was his only offer.

That's unusual for an athlete like Williams, who decommitted from App State last week, then committed to and signed with Auburn on Wednesday as a four-star running back. Offers were also pouring in from the likes of Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Miami and Michigan, among others. 

So how did Williams fly under all the aforementioned blue-bloods' radars for the better part of his high school career?

It primarily had to do with the depth in front of him at Sebring (Sebring, Fla.). As an underclassman, he waited in a crowded running back room, seeing occasional playing time and garnering a fair amount of buzz in the area. But with the talent pool in south Florida, the buzz wasn't enough.

And when he finally worked his way to the top before his junior season, the injury bug hit, meaning his senior season was his last chance to show out and earn a shot to play college ball.

Sebring asked a lot of Williams. While mostly a runner, he technically play quarterback this past fall. Williams ran for 1,320 yards and 21 touchdowns, but it was his athleticism and natural running ability that began to stick out to scouts, not the numbers.

“We had a very young line, a very small line when you look at our film — we played with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores," LaVaar Scott, Williams' coach at Sebring, told the Miami Herald last week. "So what he did was just phenomenal, and I think that’s what was able to let him showcase really what he can do because sometimes he was his own blocker and sometimes he had to bust through four or five tackles."

Translation: Williams was the No. 1 source of production for the offense — and he didn't get much help.

App State was the first to notice Williams' ability, at least publicly. They offered him before the stellar senior season even began, and a month later, he was committed.

But that was before the Power-5 bids began flooding in.

Auburn was the first. Gus Malzahn said Wednesday that Williams caught the coaching staff's eye about six weeks ago due to his running ability at the quarterback position. The more film they watched, the more they were impressed.

"After we offered him, it seemed like everybody in the country followed with that," Malzahn said. "He came on an official visit, really fit. He makes great, great grades; academics are very important to him. We fought everybody off and we think this guy’s got a chance to be a very good running back for us."

Down the stretch, the strongest competitors were Georgia, Alabama and Miami. Georgia was able to bring Williams in unofficially a week on Nov. 10, the day the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 27-10 in Athens. It was also a week before his official visit with Auburn.

But the trickier decision came when Miami was pushing for Williams' services. Williams grew up a massive Hurricanes fan in Florida. His uncle is Edgerrin James, one of the top running backs in their program history. He's called Miami "his dream school" before.

Something stuck about The Plains, though.

"I just think (Auburn) is the best place for me to grow," Williams told 247Sports after his commitment. "Mentally and physically, I feel like I always knew, ever since the visit. But I wanted to be sure."

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Williams plans to early-enroll for spring ball. Auburn will continue to chase four-star back Mark-Antony Richards in the spring in hopes of adding another elite back to pair with Williams.

But Auburn has known about and been grooming Richards' recruitment for nearly a year. Williams' first-ever trip to Auburn was just over a month ago, when Williams' meteoric rise at the end of his recruitment was just beginning.

"It feels great," Williams said of signing with Auburn. "I'm pumped up and ready to start this new chapter."


Nathan King | Sports Editor

Nathan King, senior in journalism with a minor in business, is The Plainsman's sports editor.

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