PROVO — BYU star Jamaal Williams walked into the lobby of the football offices Friday night to face the media following the Cougars’ first practice of fall camp — and, as usual, he was candid when answering questions.
Williams had spent the afternoon practice session working with the second team rather than the starters. Then, in front of an army of reporters surrounding him, he confirmed a rumor that had been swirling for a couple of weeks — the junior running back will miss the season opener at UConn on Aug. 29 due to an honor code-related suspension.
“But after that, I’ll come back for the Texas game,” Williams said, referring to the game against the Longhorns in Austin on Sept. 6. "It's just one game."
It may have been the first time in BYU football history that a player announced his own suspension.
“It’s hard. I ain’t excited about it,” Williams said of the one-game suspension. “I’ll do it, though. I’ll do what I have to do to get back on the field. I’m doing whatever I can for the team right now.”
Last March, Williams, a 19-year-old junior, pled guilty in connection with a misdemeanor charge of possession of alcohol by a minor. Williams said this suspension was a combination of what happened then, and another incident — he didn't say if it was alcohol-related — that occurred more recently.
“I know they care for me,” Williams said of the coaching staff. “It’s life. Mistakes happen. You go through the bumps in the road. You’ve got to overcome them and can’t let them get you down.”
Coach Bronco Mendenhall was caught off-guard when asked about Williams’ one-game suspension by reporters.
"My intention wasn't to announce anything,” Mendenhall said. “I'd much prefer these matters, when possible, be handled internally, and we keep it that way.”
As for the Williams situation, Mendenhall said, “I work with young people all the time. Sometimes it includes discipline like that and sometimes it doesn’t. Jamaal’s handling it really well. I look forward to helping him.”
Asked if other players will be suspended for the season opener, Mendenhall said, “I won’t confirm any of that. Any players that need development, I’ll handle internally and act appropriately. Any issues that we have now or in the past, I know it will be to the players’ benefit. I’m anxious to move forward.”
Williams said the punishment is fair, but added, “I don’t like it. I want to play. I want to show them I’ll do anything to get back on the field. But right now, I’m missing the game. It’s hard, but it’s all my doing. I chose to come here (to BYU). They told me the rules before I even stepped foot here. I have to follow the rules just like everybody else. I wasn’t listening. Now, it’s a growing experience. It just ain’t gonna happen again.”
In order to avoid future problems, Williams said he’s engaging in more wholesome activities.
“I already started doing other hobbies. You ever see me on weekends you’ll find me at Classic Skating. You may laugh, but I’m pretty good now.”
Williams’ teammates say they will stand behind him.
“We fully support him,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “He’s been out making us better and has established himself as a leader in the running back room. Other guys will step up and we’ll be OK.”
With Williams out for the opener, the Cougars will rely on Adam Hine, Paul Lasike and Algernon Brown.
“Between (Hine), Paul Lasike and Algie Brown, we’ll be just fine,” Hill said. “Everybody’s a little bit of a different runner. But combined, all three of those guys, we have a lot of weapons.”
At the start of Friday’s practice, all eyes were on another player wearing No. 21 — not Williams, but Utah transfer Harvey Langi, who will play linebacker for the Cougars.
Langi has been the subject of rumors and speculation for weeks after it became public that he might not be returning to the Utes after returning from an LDS mission.
At Bingham High, Langi was one of the best prep running backs the state has produced. Now, he’s a linebacker.
“That’s where he chose to play,” Mendenhall said. “I’m very impressed with him, not only as a person but as a football player. We’re right at the beginning of his career, but I’m impressed with him.”
Langi is eligible immediately and Mendenhall said he would like to see Langi play this season.
Saturday’s practice is open to the public, beginning at 10:30 at the outdoor practice field north of the Student Athlete Building. A scrimmage on Aug. 15 will also be open to the public. It will begin at noon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.