HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Everywhere Deonte Williams has been, the running back has compiled impressive yardage totals, but settling into his surroundings was as elusive a task as he’s been to tacklers.
After stops at three previous colleges, the Sacramento product finally found a home these past two years in San Luis Obispo. And in his senior season for the Cal Poly football team, Williams churned yardage unlike almost any other in program history.
“The crazy thing is, coming in as a freshman in 2008, I didn’t expect for me to bounce around to so many schools,” said Williams, who spent a season each at Northern Arizona and Sierra College and had a short preseason stint at San Diego State before coming to the Mustangs. “It’s something that just happened. God had a path for me, and I just went with it. I’m glad I finished my career here at Cal Poly because it’s family here for me.
“I actually feel like I have a home now. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a home in college. To play two years here, it gave me an opportunity to build a home and build friendships that I’ll have forever.”
At face value, Williams’ 48 yards on a season-low 3.7 yards per carry in Saturday’s 18-16
second-round playoff loss at No. 5 Sam Houston State (9-3) was as disappointing as the final score that ended the season for the No. 12 Mustangs (9-3).
From the perspective of the season as a whole, however, Williams’ output stands second only to James Noble’s standout 2005 season since the program’s inception in 1915.
In 2005, one of only three years that Cal Poly has made an FCS playoff appearances, Noble ran for 1,578 yards and set a program record with 16 rushing touchdowns to lead the Mustangs to a first-round upset over Montana.
Quarterback Andre Broadous broke Noble’s touchdown record with 18 rushing scores last season, but the single-season rushing record of Noble, who also holds the career rushing touchdown record with 35 scores, is safe.
Williams has been on pace the entire season to challenge Noble’s rushing total but finished 72 yards short of tying it with 1,506 yards. With a first-round exit preventing Williams from playing as many games as Noble, Williams did finish with an edge in yards per game, nipping Noble’s 121.4 with a 125.5-yard average.
Also impressive, Williams was not charged with a single fumble, lost or otherwise, in 231 rushing attempts.
Next up is pursuit of a job in the NFL, which wouldn’t be a stretch.
Four of the other top six rushers in program history were either drafted or signed as free agents in the NFL. Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said Williams could either be a late-round pick or a steal as a free agent.
“I can’t compliment Deonte enough on how far I’ve seen him come as a total football player,” Walsh said. “He’s gained yards everywhere he’s been. So, we expected him to gain yards. If we were going to put the ball in his hands, we expected 1,000 yards.
“Now, 1,500, that’s above and beyond the call, but the thing I loved about him was how physically he ran when he had the football and how much he improved blocking people and helping the other guys become better football players. He left a mark on the running back position at Cal Poly for the future.”
Williams’ best game with the Mustangs came in a 28-20 victory over rival UC Davis in the third week of the season, Walsh’s first win in four tries in the annual horseshoe trophy matchup.
Williams ran for a career-best 188 yards and added three touchdowns. That came one week after rushing for 187 yards and two scores in a 24-22 win at Wyoming, Walsh’s first over an FBS program as head coach at Cal Poly.
Williams scored three touchdowns in a game twice more in blowout victories over Portland State and Idaho State and ran for 168 yards in a return to his hometown, a 35-29 loss at Sacramento State.
It seemed at that point that Williams was destined to break the rushing record in the regular season, but it was not meant to be.
“I’m just very thankful for the opportunity to come here,” Williams said. “Anytime you’re chasing a record or you get close to breaking a record, it’s a blessing. And I just owe it to my offensive line, the receivers that block for me and coach Walsh for letting me come here. It’s definitely a great feeling to finish second. If I had finished first, either or, it’s an honor.”