Impressed coaches take redshirts from freshmen

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2012 - 11:29 PM

 Running back Rodrick Williams and tight end Lincoln Plsek are good enough to play in first year.

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Gophers running back Rodrick Williams

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The "announcement" of his promotion was so matter-of-fact, Rodrick Williams had to stop his coach and have him repeat it.

The freshman from Texas was in a one-on-one film session with running backs coach Brian Anderson when the coach pointed something out on the screen and said, "When you go in on Saturday ..."

"I was like, 'What? I'm going in?' " Williams recounted a couple of days after his college debut for the Gophers. "He said, 'Yeah. You didn't think you would?' He told me I was going to be playing."

And with that, Williams' redshirt season became something altogether different. Although, it was something pretty familiar, too.

"It felt like playing high school football, to tell you the truth," Williams said of his three-carry, 18-yard debut against Northwestern. "Everyone's nervous their first play, but after that, you don't even worry about it."

No, the worry in a case like Williams' belongs to the coaches. They're the ones who have to weigh the benefits of burning a redshirt at midseason to use a freshman's talents right away vs. the loss of a fifth season of eligibility down the road. Do we really need him on the field today, or will we regret it when he's a senior?

"It's huge. We don't take that lightly," said offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who decided to add Williams and a fellow Texan, tight end Lincoln Plsek, to the Gophers' game-day roster last Saturday, the Gophers' sixth game of the season.

"We wouldn't take a redshirt off a kid in Week 11. But these guys have developed the past couple of months, and we can play them a lot. We're going to make it worth their while, make sure it's a productive year."

That's because college students have only four years of eligibility, and the moment they step on the field during a game, they have used one up (though there are medical exceptions if they get hurt). Those years are precious, in other words.

So expect Williams to get more carries, and Plsek to catch more passes -- he had one for 9 yards in his debut Saturday -- plus play a lot on special teams as the season goes on.

The Gophers have a responsibility to them, coach Jerry Kill said, and the pair will be better next year for all the experience they get now.

"We're trying to play some of these kids so next year it won't be culture shock," Kill said.

Besides, Kill said, Williams has proven since spring ball that "he's a pretty gifted kid, he really is."

The Gophers were concerned that they were overloading starting tailback Donnell Kirkwood -- his 28 carries against Syracuse "was a little bit too much for him," Limegrover said -- and Williams' performance in practice was undeniable.

"He's 238 pounds, and Donnell's about 215. So there's a 20-pound difference, and he's probably got a little more speed than Donnell," Kill said. "He's got a pop when he hits you. He snaps you."

The Gophers' defense has absorbed those hits for months.

"Last week was his first game, but we've known all about him the whole time he's been here," safety Brock Vereen said.

"He's a physical specimen, and he's been a load for us to tackle. He's huge, he has great speed, and he's going to be great for us."

Williams was bigger than his offensive linemen at Lewisville High in suburban Dallas, so his coach told him "if there's no hole, go make one yourself," Williams said.

Anderson is trying to teach him to be more patient, to let holes develop and to avoid contact as much as possible.

"When I get in the hole, if someone gets in my way, it's instinct to go ahead and run them over. I don't really make too many cuts, because I'm [almost] 245 pounds," Williams said.

"Coach wants me to try to make them miss. The good backs know how to make them miss."

So won't Williams miss his take-it-easy, watch-and-learn redshirt season? Doesn't sound like it.

"Basically, they said, 'Guess what? It's your turn to show us what you've got,' "Williams said.

"I'm ready. I'm just here to help my teammates."

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