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BYU football: Cougar are producing NFL running back gold

The Jamaal Williams act took center stage at Lambeau Field on Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons discovered that rookie Tyler Allgeier really is a tank sans clackity tracks, and Taysom Hill’s remarkable athleticism should have been used even more in New Orleans.

NFL highlighting BYU runners?

It is true.

Bill Simmons, co-founder of ESPN’s 30For30, said of Allgeier: “Tyler Allgeier is the best running back in the league. Nobody can tackle him. He might be Earl Campbell 1978.”

This past weekend Williams scored his 17th touchdown of the season for the Detroit Lions in a win over rival Green Bay. It was the best rushing TD total in the NFL this season and broke the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

Allgeier became the first rookie in Falcons history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

This year marks the first time in BYU history that two alumni running backs rushed for 1,000 yards in the NFL. To put that in perspective, only one other school produced more alumni with 1,000-yard NFL seasons this year. Alabama had three (Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris). BYU (Williams, Allgeier), and Penn State (Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders) tied for second with two players each.

Playing for the Saints, Hill became the first NFL player since the league merger to run, pass and catch for 10 or more touchdowns in a career — the ultimate Swiss Army knife. 

This season, Allgeier and Williams were joined by two other alumni considered elite at their positions. Fred Warner is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is considered among the top of his peers.

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Detroit running back Jamaal Williams carries the ball during game against Green Bay Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. Former BYU great broke Barry Sanders’ single-season TD record in season finale against the Packers.

Morry Gash, Associated Press

The weekend’s BYU alumni RB production got a reaction from plenty, including this tweet from former Cougars and Packers edge rusher Brady Poppinga: “If anyone thinks that there have been any other Running Backs in the history of @BYUfootball better than either Jamaal Williams or Tyler Allgeier just doesn’t know football. It’s those two in their own universe then in another galaxy are the rest.”

Sanders also took to Twitter to congratulate Williams for surpassing his team record for TDs in a season: “Hey, Jamaal, Barry Sanders here. I just wanted to congratulate you for an awesome year and breaking my record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a Detroit Lion. Awesome job. You’ve been a big part of the success of this year and I know you are just getting started.”

This past Sunday, it was headliner time for Williams and Allgeier.

BYU has never had this kind of NFL success from its running back corps. It drew even more attention because of Williams’ penchant for producing quotable soundbites custom-made for Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. His postgame interview after the Lions’ win over his former Packers team epitomizes his natural personality acumen when he broke down in tears over the death of his great-grandfather, then gathered himself and went right into Smack Talk 101.

Classic Williams.

On the year, Williams had 262 carries for 1,066 yards, the 17 TDs and an average-yards-per-carry mark of 4.1. Allgeier, a former walk-on and converted linebacker at BYU, had 210 carries for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns. His average yards per carry was a whopping 4.9.

BYU’s running back production in the NFL was unexpected. But it got even better on Saturday when the Arizona Cardinals added Ty’Son Williams, a Cougars alum who transferred in from South Carolina. The move came for the showdown with the 49ers. 

When the TV network did player introductions for “Sunday Night Football” for the Packers-Lions game, Williams appeared and barked out a title from an anime character that had the country confused then laughing with delight over his creativity and smile.

Instead of saying Jamaal Williams, the Lions star looked at the camera with the craziest face he could muster and said, “First Swag Kazekage, leader of the Hidden Village of the Den.”

It kind of shocked the TV audience. But then as it sunk in and was translated on social media, it became another Williams calling card, right up there with pregame dance moves in warmups and touchdown celebrations.

You can’t buy this kind of publicity if you are pushing Williams as his agent.

A day later, Williams explained his “nerd” anime introduction and the terms he used.

And BYU couldn’t rush out faster with Tweets and graphics on Monday asking prospective players to take a look at the Cougar den in recruiting. On campus recruiting coordinator Jack Damuni tweeted out: “If you’re a non-LDS athlete who wants to play D-I football, live in the best economic performance town in the nation, receive the best education & be amongst the best network in the world, & play in the NFL? 

“Then @BYUfootball is your home, HERE’S YOUR Y!!”

And he included a photo collage of Williams and Allgeier celebrating TDs.

Can the Williams-Allgeier NFL act pay dividends for BYU in recruiting running backs?  

It already may have had an impact when BYU signed UNLV portal transfer Aidan Robbins.

Jeff Hansen, of CougarSportsInsider.com, a part of 247Sports, provided an interesting take when I posed the question to him on Monday.

“A vacuum salesman came to my house recently. I quickly rebuffed the idea of buying a vacuum because I already had one. The salesman, who was very good at their job, quickly recognized I didn’t want a vacuum and started to show me the carpet cleaning module of the vacuum. Then, they showed me how it can clean my blinds, and my mattress, and the hardwood floors in my home. By the end of the sales pitch, I purchased a vacuum I didn’t need because a salesman continued to pitch different things about the vacuum until they found something I did need,” said Hansen in a direct message to me on Twitter.

“Such is the case for BYU on the recruiting trail. The success of BYU players in the NFL gives BYU another meaningful and powerful tool in their recruiting toolbox. For some recruits, the NFL is the end-all-be-all of their recruitment — they want to be in the ‘League.’ In those circumstances, BYU’s pitch is obvious. For others, they might not care about the NFL and Tyler Allgeier or Fred Warner’s success doesn’t really move the needle for them. That’s OK too. 

“But, BYU’s toolbox became a lot more versatile this NFL season. In previous years, coaches almost had to avoid the NFL discussion. If that was important for recruits, they very rarely closed the sale. Now, they have a great pitch to make. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s just another pitch to make. 

“At the end of the day, I didn’t need a vacuum, but all of other tools sold me on the idea of having one. The more tools BYU can use to recruit, the more success they are going to have in the end.”

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talks with Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams following game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. The Lions won 20-16.

Morry Gash, Associated Press

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