CONWAY — When the Coastal Carolina football staff asked the players to vote for team awards this week, there was certainly no shortage of worthy candidates on the offensive side.
Such as a running back who broke the program record for all-purpose yardage, three receivers each ranking highly on the Chanticleers’ single-season receptions list and a quarterback who led the Big South Conference in total offense and was the runner-up for the league’s own offensive player of the year award.
But in casting his vote, senior quarterback Aramis Hillary looked instead to senior center Pat Williams, the player whose value might be the most underrated ingredient behind prolific offense that has carried the Chants back into the postseason.
“He probably plays the game with more passion than I’ve seen in my life,” Hillary said of Williams. “Just to have that center and quarterback connection, almost every time we step onto the field he tells me, ‘Hey man, I’ve got you. I’m going to take care of my troops and you just lead stuff back here. I’m going to take care of things up front.’ That makes me feel at ease. I can’t even stress enough.
“As matter of fact, we voted on offensive players of the year and he was my offensive player of the year, I’ll go ahead and say it.”
As the Chants (7-4) prepare to head to Daytona Beach, Fla., for their first-round NCAA FCS playoff game at Bethune-Cookman (9-2) on Saturday, they do so with an offense that has averaged 46.2 points over the last five games and a Big South-best 271.5 rushing yards per game in league play.
All behind a line that lost one of its most veteran starters to injury midway through the season in junior left guard Jamey Cheatwood while introducing two new starters on the right side this year.
In the middle of it all for the last three seasons has been Williams, but he’ll be the first to admit this fall has been different.
“Last year, I felt like I had a real good season, and when I didn’t get any Big South all-conference [recognition], it kind of hit home that it’s really not all about me. It’s a team thing, and your attitude takes away from your accolades and your progression in life,” Williams said this week.
“I’m not that old guy anymore, I’m not the old Pat Williams. The snappy one, always into fights, always talking back at coaches. I’ve just changed that, calmed myself down, just learned to take criticism from the coaches and just move on. Just listen to what they’re saying because at the end of the day, they’re right.”
That passion Hillary mentioned has always been there with Williams, but it wasn’t always as finely focused in the past. He had often elicited frustration from former CCU coach David Bennett, such as showing up to camp out of shape one season or for various other reasons that drew the coaches’ ire.
In his own words, Williams said he had to shake out of his “selfish ways” and realize that as the veteran anchor up front for the Chants, he had an influence on the players around him.
“Part of it’s just getting older, and you kind of learn from your mistakes of the past,” CCU offensive line coach Patrick Covington said. “I definitely probably was really hard on him at first when I first got here, and partly because you see the potential he has. But for some guys, it’s just getting a little bit older.”
Williams has been the Chants’ steadiest lineman all season, consistently drawing praise and acknowledgement from coaches behind the scenes while playing his role in an offense that has put up one of the best seasons in program history.
The team’s 387 points (35.2 per game overall) is already the third-highest total in program history and just 26 points shy of the record set in 2004 while the Chants’ 4,769 total offensive yards (433.5 per game) is their second-best ever behind the 5,617 they had over 12 games in 2006.
The most noticeable difference has come in a rushing attack that was subpar much of last season and got off to a slow start this fall before becoming perhaps the strength of the team. The Chants have rushed for at least 200 yards in six straight games – including highs of 365 and 331 – while marking the longest such streak in program history..
“The biggest thing that we always talk about is the communication,” Covington said. “[Williams] does a good job of making sure that everybody’s on the same page if we’re working toward a certain linebacker, if we’re calling a certain protection – whatever it is. He makes sure everybody’s on the same page. … He’s consistently done the best out of anybody that I’ve had here as far as a full year.”
The rest of the conference took notice as well as Williams earned first-team All-Big South status Tuesday when the league’s annual awards were announced.
“As a senior, it really hits home for you because this is it, this is your last,” Williams said. “It just really hits home, and every day I want to go out there and dominant my opponent.”
And thanks to the work he and his teammates have done the last five weeks, he’ll get at least one more chance Saturday.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.