Second Hokie RB off to NFL

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2011

Since last Monday's Orange Bowl, redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams said he would find himself lost in thought, pacing back and forth in his Manassas home. He struggled determining whether to stay at Virginia Tech for another year.

But on Sunday, he finally made up his mind. Calling it "probably the the hardest decision I ever made in my life," Williams chose to forgo his final two years of college eligibility and declare for the NFL draft, becoming the second Hokies running back in the past four days to do so.

"I think the biggest thing is I have an opportunity in the NFL that I don't want to pass up," Williams said in a phone interview. "This is the only thing I've wanted to do since I was 6 years old. I told my mom when I was 8, 'This is the only job I ever wanted to have.' "

Williams's backfield mate, Darren Evans, declared for the NFL draft Thursday, leaving Virginia Tech with just one returning member of this year's three-back system - sophomore David Wilson.

Williams said Coach Frank Beamer didn't try to persuade him to come back for another season, but did suggest it so there would be no doubt about whether he'll be a first-round draft pick. Williams also consulted with his former coach at Stonewall Jackson High, Loren Johnson, and former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller while making his decision. Spiller improved his draft stock by coming back for his senior season in 2009, and was selected in the first round by the Buffalo Bills in last year's draft.

But ultimately, Williams believed the NFL draft advisory board's evaluation that he would be a first- or second-round pick if he came out this year was too good to pass up.

Williams considers himself the "second-rated back" in this year's draft class, and believed he wouldn't be able to improve on that status by coming back and splitting carries with Wilson. The NFL's pending labor issues also played a role in his decision.

"Looking at the running backs that's coming out this year and coming out next year . . . and being a potential first-rounder, I don't want to pass that up," Williams said. "With all the talk about putting the rookie salary cap on, when you're a first-rounder, you try to get the best out of your contract."

As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Williams set an ACC freshman rushing record with 1,655 yards and 22 touchdowns. But he endured an injury-marred 2010 season, missing four games because of a slightly torn right hamstring and gaining just 477 yards.

Williams struggled with questions surrounding his durability during his decision-making process. He said scouts have few doubts that he'll be able to contribute to an NFL team, but the nagging hamstring injury - which almost kept him out of the Orange Bowl - lingers with some of them.

But Williams believes he can debunk these "myths" during the lead up to the draft. And even though this year didn't turn out as he imagined, he said his lasting memory of Virginia Tech will be the 84-yard touchdown run he had against Miami this season.

"I don't think I've been here long enough to leave a lasting memory," Williams said. "But my name is in the record books, so I hope I won't be forgot about in this program."

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