Over many miles and tribulations

October 29, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Comebacks aren't new for Allen Williams.

Four years ago, an auto accident nearly took his life. A year later, Williams entered a cut-throat junior college situation No. 23 out of 26 recruits who wanted to carry the ball. Maryland tried him at defensive back, and when he made his offensive debut for the Terps, Williams knew one play: sweep left.

Those memories buoyed the senior after he severely sprained an ankle in August, which in turn delayed Maryland's plans to put the run back in the run-and-shoot and contributed to the Terps' 0-2 start. A homecoming victory over Tulane today (1:30 p.m.) at Byrd Stadium would allow Maryland (3-4) to enter November with a .500 record for only the second time since 1988, and the Terps might not be in this position without Williams' grit.

"I never give up," Williams said. "That's my style."

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Williams was referring to the fact that he'll need an incredible finish to realize his preseason goal of 1,000 yards rushing. He was unaware that it's been 12 years since a Terp reached that plateau -- Willie Joyner had 1,039 yards in 1982 -- and equally oblivious to the data that show him having the best season by a Maryland back in nearly a decade.

Fact: No Terp with 100 carries has averaged more than five yards per rush since Alvin Blount's 5.9 average in 1984. Williams is averaging 4.9 yards on the season, 5.2 per carry and 82.6 per game since the 0-2 start. Even his seasonal average of 60.9 yards per game would give him the Terps' highest rushing total since Blount had 828 yards in 1985.

"Don't forget, he's still not 100 percent healthy," coach Mark Duffner said, "but he's always efforting 100 percent."

Actually, the last time Williams walked off a football field completely fine was after the opener of his senior season at Thomasville (Ga.) High, a football hotbed near the Florida border that also produced Charlie Ward. Two days later, on Sept. 2, 1990, Williams was cruising in his Toyota 4X4.

"It was a perfect Sunday afternoon, sunny, 90 degrees," Williams said. "A drunk driver pulled out in front of me, and I never saw him. My truck rolled over eight times, and I was thrown out the windshield on the third turn. I broke my left ankle, had to get 92 staples to close the cuts on my head. I was unconscious for three or four days."

Williams ignored his doctor's advice and returned in late October to play for Thomasville High. College recruiters lost interest in what they viewed as damaged goods, however, and Williams lost interest in reaching the NCAA's academic standards for freshman eligibility. He instead joined the fledgling junior college team at Georgia Military College, where the newcomers included Mark Motley, the Terps' right tackle.

"We brought in 130 players that first year, and Allen was way down the list at running back," said Robert Nunn, the Georgia Military coach. "It took him a while to recover from the accident, but nobody was tougher, or fought harder. I used him mainly as a fullback, but by the end of his first year, he played some tailback. He worked and worked to make the most of his chance."

Williams didn't want to risk being lost in the shuffle again, so he turned down a scholarship to Florida. He was frustrated when Maryland put him at strong safety to start last season, but when Mark Mason was injured for the third straight year and none of the reserves stood out, Williams found himself playing superback against Duke.

Two games later, Williams turned some heads with 30 carries and 118 yards against No. 1 Florida State, and since then he's been the Terps' top choice.

In August, he injured the same ankle that was broken in the accident. He could only jog for several weeks and was limited to eight carries in Maryland's first two games, but since then Williams has handled the ball twice as often as any other Terps back or receiver.

Williams has added balance to an attack that was purely pass-oriented last year, and he's also improved his blocking. More than 600 pounds worth of Steve Ingram and Erik Greenstein led the convoy that turned an outside screen to Jermaine Lewis into a clinching 60-yard touchdown play last week, but Williams was also there every step of the way.

Sometimes, Williams sounds too good to be true. He'll help move the chains, only to come out for the short-yardage offense, the reason he has only two touchdowns.

"We'll move the ball downfield, then Black Thunder [short-yardage offense] comes in," Williams said. "I want to stay in. I hate it, but it's working, and those guys are a part of the team too."

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