September 10, 2013 9:52:15 PM
WEST POINT -- The challenge is simple: Run the ball when everyone knows you're the man.
In a sense, that has been the modus operandi for the West Point High School football team since the sport of football was invented.
While that might be overstating the overpowering nature of the Green Wave's ground game just a little bit, Aeris Williams doesn't mind. The way he sees it, he is the latest in a line of featured backs who relish the assignment of going against seven- and eight-man fronts and making things happen.
Best of all, Williams is doing it with a great nickname -- "A-Train" -- just like so many of the West Point running backs before him.
As a matter of fact, Williams might be doing it better than any of them. The senior's first two games this season would make that assertion appear to be true. Fresh off a 181-yard, four-touchdown effort against defending Class 6A state champion South Panola, Williams gashed 2012 Class 5A state champion Starkville for 246 yards and two scores Friday to fuel West Point's 55-33 victory.
For his accomplishments, Williams is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
Williams showed Friday that even a few special guests don't rattle his focus. Buoyed by the presence of Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen and running backs coach Greg Knox, Williams, who has given a verbal commitment to MSU, torched Starkville on a 23-carry evening that pushed his season's rushing total to 427 yards in two games.
Williams said he didn't try to "show out" for the MSU coaches. Instead, he tries to "show out" for his teammates every game because his and the program's goal is to get to Jackson and win a state title.
The latest victory showed the Green Wave they have to remain focused and can't be lackadaisical. After breaking out to a 21-0 lead, West Point saw Starkville rally only to turn it back up in the second half and pull away.
West Point football coach Chris Chambless put it best when he said, "success breeds success." He said Williams is just one example of players who have come up through the program and watched what it takes to make the Green Wave successful. Not only has Williams learned from running backs before him like Tez Lane and Lakenderic Thomas, but he also has laid the foundation for future workhorses to do it in a similar fashion.
"He has already made a name for himself, and the younger guys are following him," Chambless said. "The younger guys are learning about playing hard and work ethic and knowing they're not going to be able to step out onto the field and just do something."
Chambless said Williams has learned what it takes from players and coaches and from attending camps. He said Williams has emerged as a leader who doesn't shy away from being in the spotlight.
"It drives him," Chambless said. "We don't call him the 'A-Train' for nothing. He has felt pressure for the past two years. He has played with an 'X' on his chest for the past two years.
"He has something internally that gets him going. He knows this is his ticket. That drives him even harder. He is one of those guys who doesn't want to let anyone down."
Chambless thought for a minute when asked how he wants to see Williams get better. He said he wants Williams to continue to be a "great leader" for the team.
That seems just fine with Williams, who admits he doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about how another defense is going to stack the line of scrimmage or try to shadow him wherever he goes on the field. A challenge like that doesn't bother Williams because he knows his offensive line, his fullbacks, and his wide receivers will help him and the Green Wave ride the "A-Train" to the end zone.
"It is no just me on the field," Williams said. "It is my whole team out there. When they come to just stop me, they're going to be in a whole different ballgame because we use everybody on our team."
Williams is like the running backs that have come before him in another way. He gives all the credit to God and to his teammates for helping pave a path for him. He said he has learned he can't run over everybody from Lane and that you can run over some people from Ken-Ken (Thomas). These days, it is just about picking his spots and getting better every day.
"If you are in the open field, you can use what Tez taught you, to shake them and to get around them," Williams said. "If you are in the hole, you can power through like Ken-Ken."
It also is up for debate whether Thomas, who also was nicknamed "The Hammer," or Williams has the better moniker. While Thomas will showcase his skills for the East Mississippi Community College Lions, Williams will make Thomas, Lane, and all of the other West Point running backs proud in his final prep season. They will be even prouder if Williams and the Green Wave can secure a date in December in Jackson to hold some championship hardware.
After facing a season's worth of defenses primed to stop him, that doesn't sound like a difficult assignment for Williams.
"I just want to keep learning and to keep being coachable," Williams said.