Updated April 5, 2018 - 7:40 pm
He won’t face live tackling until August, but it was still a welcome sight for UNLV football fans when sophomore running back Charles Williams practiced Tuesday at Rebel Park.
It was his first substantial practice since injuring his right ankle in last season’s opener against Howard and undergoing season-ending surgery.
“It looked like he was back to 100 percent,” running backs coach Travis Burkett said. “Now, obviously, he was noncontact and just doing drills on air, but I ran at him as fast as I could run, and he turned the corner running that speed sweep play.”
Coaches are being cautious with Williams and senior Lexington Thomas this spring, preferring to give other backs an extended look rather than put either at much risk. Williams (5 feet 9 inches 185 pounds) and Thomas (5-9, 170) form the Mountain West’s best tandem.
Thomas was named first-team all-conference last season after rushing for 1,336 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He enters his final season with 12 100-yard rushing games, five behind all-time leader Mike Thomas (1973-74).
Williams went into last season as the starter after setting the school freshman rushing record in 2016 with 763 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Quarterback Armani Rogers broke that mark last season with 780 yards.
“It’s good to see Charles back, and he looked fast today,” coach Tony Sanchez said Tuesday. “We know we’ve got Lightning Lex, and the fastest guy on the team is Charles Williams, so having both those guys back there is a big, big deal.”
How coaches split carries between the two is a good problem to have. Expect both to line up together in the backfield at times. Burkett said it wouldn’t be a gimmick, noting many teams use a two-tailback set in which one “is lesser than the other guy.”
“I think with us, when you roll that package out, you’ve got three great skilled receivers on the field that are pretty much all the same in terms of being great players, and then any two of our running backs are the same as in terms of being great players,” Burkett said. “So that’s a problem for the defense.”
Williams hopes to make up for lost time. Last season was painful for him, and not just physically.
“It hurt at first because I had never experienced sitting out that long,” Williams said. “But I grew as a person and used it as an advantage in school and took my time and got back healthy.”
Not able to practice or play, Williams did what he could to keep himself in shape, working on his cardiovascular and even going into a pool as part of his rehabilitation.
“He was always in my office checking in, making sure he didn’t fall behind,” Burkett said. “I know he worked his butt off to try to rehab and get back.”
Williams will have to wait until August when he can put on the pads again and go through a contact practice.
As nice as Tuesday was for him to get partially back, it still wasn’t the real thing.
“I feel if I had to, I could go right now,” Williams said. “I feel pretty good about fall camp.”
Complex under construction
Progress finally is being made on constructing the Fertitta Football Complex.
Part of the parking lot next to Rebel Park is fenced off, and two of the entrances to the practice field are closed.
“They’re really starting to move dirt and construction and everything this week,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “That’s exciting, and it’s been a long time coming.”
The two-story, 73,000-square-foot complex will house UNLV football. It will cost about $28 million and is expected to be ready for spring practices next year.
Mark Anderson Review-Journal