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Irvine's Williams Takes Over Running Back Duties

September 19, 1997|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Servite Coach Larry Toner watched last week as his defensive unit give up 147 yards rushing to Esperanza's Brent Garrison in a 7-6 loss.

Tonight, Toner's team faces a similar challenge in Irvine senior running back Al Williams.

"Williams is bigger and faster than Garrison," Toner said. "All he needs is an angle and an edge and he's got you. We will have to play a much better game to stop him."

That's something University was unable to do in the second half last week, when Williams scored three of his four touchdowns to help Irvine rally from a 21-2 third-quarter deficit to win, 30-29.

"I knew the team was really counting on me," said Williams, 6-3, 190 pounds. "And I like the pressure of delivering with the game on the line."

Williams' performance against University--he rushed for 212 yards in 32 carries--was not a surprise.

Last year in the Vaqueros' season opener against Anaheim, Williams broke loose for a 205 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

"That was different," he said. "In that game I sat out the second half. This time, I needed all 32 carries [to get the yards]. But it felt better."

Although Williams finished with 818 yards rushing and six touchdowns last season, he wasn't the featured runner in Irvine's offense. That was Jake Savona. But Savona, then a senior, suffered from shin splints in the early going. Once league play began, Savona got the ball more and finished with 614 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.

One reason Williams was relegated to No. 2 on the depth chart was "because Al was the best blocking back we had," defensive coordinator Lance Neal said.

Williams had no complaints. "I knew how I was contributing to the team and accepted my role. But this year, I don't mind being 'The Man.' "

Williams said he was told by his coaches he would have to be the team's leader and its big producer if Irvine expected to challenge for the Sea View League championship.

"When I was a freshman [former standout running back] Tony Mathis was a senior here," Williams said. "He gave me tips on how to run, how to use your body--your knees, elbows--to avoid being tackled. I looked up to him, and now there are guys on the team who look up to me. So I watch how I conduct myself and try to help them out."

That's important. These Vaqueros (1-0) are young. They start 13 juniors, eight on defense. And until that defensive unit jells, Irvine will have to try to outscore opponents.

Irvine's schedule also includes Mater Dei, the Southern Section's defending Division I champion, and league opponents Santa Margarita and Newport Harbor, who met in the Division V championship game.

But Williams has big expectations for the Vaqueros this season. His teammates want to improve on last year's 6-4 record.

"This summer we worked harder than any [other Irvine] team since I have been here," Williams said. "As a sophomore and junior, when we went into the weight room we'd lift, but we'd also do a lot of talking. Now we go in there to do a job. We run hard every practice. It paid off against University."

Williams can also be a force on defense, playing at the safety position in crucial situations. UCLA and Oregon have expressed some interest in him as a defensive back.

Neal said he would love to have Williams on a full-time basis--"he's very good at knocking down passes"--but knows Williams' most important contribution is made on offense.

"I would think at worst he should be a 1,500-yard guy by the end of the season," Neal said. "We will get him the ball 30 times per game. We have some other good skill players, but he's so good he should touch the ball that often."

Irvine Coach Terry Henigan adds he will have to demonstrate durability too.

"As a college prospect he is probably the best skill kid we've had here," Henigan said. "The question is, can he take the punishment for 10-14 games? I'm a big fan of Al Williams, but let's talk about him at end of year. And when we do, I believe there will be good things to say."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SERVITE VS. IRVINE, Featured Game

When: 7:30 tonight.

Where: Irvine High.

Records: Servite 0-1, Irvine 1-0.

Rankings: Servite No. 8; Irvine is unranked.

Noteworthy: It's too early to call this a "must-win" for Servite. But with Santa Margarita, Fountain Valley and Mater Dei on their schedule, the Friars might start league play 0-5 if they lose tonight. An Irvine victory would establish the Vaqueros as a team on the rise.

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