December 26, 2013 10:19:04 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
WEST POINT -- West Point High School football coach Chris Chambless remembers inserting ninth-grader Aeris Williams into his first varsity game and telling him to hang on to the ball and to try not to do anything special.
Sixty-five yards later, Chambless knew what kind of talent the Green Wave had for the next three years.
"I'm a big believer that when you're born you either have that special something or you don't," Chambless said. "Aeris' whole career has been about showing off that it factor every Friday night."
Williams doesn't really remember the game against Clarksdale, but he always will remember the belief his coaches have had in him since that moment.
"My coaches deserve almost all the credit for my success because they pushed me to be better every day," Williams said. "All I had to do is listen to them and keep working hard to get to the next level."
Three years later, Williams established himself as arguably the best running back in the state of Mississippi and the face of the West Point program in 2013. For his accomplishments, Williams is The Dispatch's Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year.
"I'm going to miss my teammates and experiences at West Point, but I'm looking forward to taking my game to the next level at Mississippi State," Williams said.
Williams, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound tailback, is rated a four-star prospect by 247Sports.com. He chose MSU over offers from Ole Miss, Florida State, and Wisconsin. The Williams family lived in Racine, Wis., before moving to West Point. Williams is the fourth prospect from West Point High to give MSU coach Dan Mullen a verbal commitment. He joins The Dispatch's former Player of the Year Michael Carr and current MSU players Curtis Virges and Justin Cox.
"Being from West Point is kind of like being a part of a big family, and trust me there's a lot of people in this West Point family eager to see Aeris be a quality student-athletes at MSU just like Virges and Justin Cox," Chambless said.
MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy and running backs coach Greg Knox were Williams' primary recruiters. Williams said he was impressed with Knox's ability to help former MSU tailbacks Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard to the NFL. Williams will have a opportunity to battle for carries in one of MSU's deepest backfields after he signs his National Letter of Intent in February.
In an offense where all 11 defenders knew Williams likely would touch the football nearly every snap, he still rushed for 2,209 yards and 30 touchdowns. Williams averaged 7.91 yards per carry and had 71 touchdowns in his three years as West Point's primary tailback.
"My blockers and other backs on this team helped me get those yards with their blocks and effort. Please understand that," Williams said. "They don't get mentioned, but they were out there working and doing those reps just like everybody else."
Williams' humble nature is part of the reason Chambless to call Williams one of his favorite athletes to coach. Williams led by example and shouldered a significant load to help the Green Wave return to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
"He was the player you wanted to make sure that football ended up in his hands," Chambless said. "Sometimes we make this too difficult as coaches, but when Aeris Williams had the ball, special things would happen."
Williams did special things like breaking loose for a 51-yard run that set up his touchdown plunge two plays later that broke a scoreless tie against Noxubee County.
"He's the best tailback in the state. You can only hold him in check for so long," Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said. "You knew he'd make a play no matter the defense or the scheme."
Williams also had one of his best games of the season against another rival, rushing for 246 yards on 23 carries and scoring two touchdowns in a 55-33 victory against Starkville.
"No matter the amount of yards or touchdowns, he never took credit and wanted to defer the credit to his offensive line," Chambless said. "He never wanted attention and never wanted to be highlighted. I'd be willing to bet he doesn't even feel comfortable with any honor, even this one."
Williams' ability to get stronger in the second half and in the fourth quarter helped push West Point to a 7-5 record. In wins against Starkville, Center Hill, Lake Cormorant, and Saltillo, Williams took at least 23 carries and had more yards in the second half than in the first half.
"That just goes back to his character and the way he conducted himself in practice by refusing special treatment," Chambless said. "Never once did I make him a 'you can't touch him' guy in practice, and he was more than willing to take that extra rep to prepare his teammates. In the same way, it prepared him for those extra hits in the final quarter."
Williams isn't sentimental about his success. He knows he traveled a long road from an unproven ninth-grader to one of the state's top prospects. Again, he credits his teammates and coaches for helping him get there.
"I don't have one special moment that I'll always remember about being at West Point," Williams said. "I was just somebody that helped my team win more than we lost."
"I'm going to miss having him on my team because he was a person that led by example," Chambless said. "There's not enough people his age that act like that anymore, and Aeris Williams should be looked at as a role model on how to be a man."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.