The depth chart at running back for Kentucky football was fully utilized last season, even if that wasn't the original intention of the staff. Despite several injuries last year, it was the depth at the position that kept a struggling offense afloat.
Josh Clemons, a true freshman at the time, incurred the most devastating injury last season when he needed season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. That came on the heels of Raymond Sanders returning from surgery himself. What once looked like a potential bright spot on the offense was seeing the spotlight diminishing.
That's when CoShik Williams saw his first crack of daylight, an opportunity to get back on the field and showcase his abilities to his teammates, staff, and the fans.
"It was a big adrenaline rush," said Williams. "You can't really explain it. You're right out there in Commonwealth (Stadium), see all those fans looking at you, it's like a feeling you can't really explain. It's a dream come true. I'm just blessed I finally got the chance to show people what I can do."
It was a long time coming for the now redshirt senior. He had been hampered by injuries earlier in his career that kept him from seeing more playing time. Williams, who stands at 5-foot-9, has bulked up to 190 pounds this offseason in an effort to stay healthy and add an element of power to his game.
"It really took a lot of patience and hoping and waiting," said Williams. "When it finally came years later, it felt good to finally get it, like I said, it's just a feeling you can't explain. I just had to go out there and show the coaches I could play, that I knew the right plays, that I had speed, that I had power, that it wasn't just size. Back then, in the first game I played I was 178, so I gained a couple pounds and now I feel good."
Running backs coach Steve Pardue could not have been happier for Williams. Pardue arrived to Kentucky last season to see Williams' breakout year, but Williams was unsure whether or not his time would come. That patience and waiting that Williams exhibited came with a lot of frustration and disappointment internally. Constant encouragement from Pardue helped Williams stay focused for when his time would come.
"When I first got here last year, he wasn't in the top couple and didn't play in a couple games and really got discouraged," said Pardue. "And I kept telling him you're going to get your chance. Just keep fighting and you'll get your chance. He's what you hope in life happens to people that when they get their opportunity, they seize the moment."
Williams had several moments in his nine games at tailback. In fact, he ended up leading all Kentucky rushers with 486 yards and three touchdowns including a career-high 148-yard performance against Jacksonville State.
After tasting success and prolonged playing time last season, Williams has his eyes set on keeping the starting role. And while he figures to get a majority, or at least his fair share of carries, the coaching staff has stated that the running back position will be by committee, words that no starting running back wants to hear.
"I just feel like I'm in this position for a reason," said Williams. "I'm just going to have to keep doing what I do and stay at the top of the running back position. Whatever happens happens from there. But right now, my mindset is to keep my position."
As was the case last season, and one of the main reasons why Kentucky was able to make strides in the offense down the stretch, an abundance of depth at the running back position could go a long way for this year's offensive attack. Except this season, the depth is even deeper.
At running back, Kentucky returns three upperclassmen to their stable in Williams, Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George. Clemons will be back in the mix once his knee returns to 100 percent. But what really gives this group its depth and versatility is an impressive duo of freshmen in Justin Taylor and Dyshawn Mobley. Both players have impressed so far in fall camp, so much so that Pardue is intent on having all six running backs ready to play September 2 against Louisville.
Though Williams may not be willing to surrender the top spot on the depth chart that he's worked so hard for in his four years at Kentucky, the running-back-by-committee approach will definitely keep him fresh and help preserve his longevity throughout the season.
Williams' fellow running back Raymond Sanders appreciates Williams' desire to the best running back of the bunch, but the competition will ultimately make the collective group stronger.
"I like that idea," said Sanders. "Everyone wants to be the number one guy, and if you didn't want to be the number one guy, I wouldn't want him to be in the room with me. That's not pushing me to make me better and that's not pushing him to be his best. Everyone wants to be the number one guy, but we all know that we can come out and treat it like you are the starter and make sure you know everything."
Sanders also looks at the running back plans as a way to give his best efforts 100 percent of the time, knowing that if a player is winded, someone else is going to be able to step in and not miss a beat.
"I think it is the best way," said Sanders. "When your legs are fresh, it's easier for you to run and to play hard. You know you've got guys behind you where you can get a rest. You don't have to worry that he's not going to bring the same intensity, not going to bring the same production."
Pardue has been pleased with what he has seen from his upperclassmen. They have been great role models on and off the field for the younger backs and provided invaluable leadership.
"(Williams) and (Sanders) have done a really good job of setting the tone for our running backs and Jonathan George is right there with him," said Pardue. "Not only just our running backs, but our whole football team. They've been heavily involved with special teams and trying to work really hard and bring energy level. They take a lot of pride in saying they're the hardest-working guys."
Williams, Sanders and George have seen it all during their time at Kentucky. They've enjoyed success and suffered through the pains of last year. With both victory and defeat fresh in their minds, they've been able to rally together to become a leading unit of the football team.
"Years in the past, we were young guys, and we had (Derrick) Locke," said Sanders. "He was the one guy leading us. But now that we've grown together and we've learned together, we've been down and we try to come up together. Now, we have more leadership. It's better leading with three guys instead of just one because some guys here are different, some guys bring energy different."
And whether it was out of necessity or a natural occurrence is a moot point. Several leaders from last year's team graduated and have moved on. So players had to step up to fill the void. Williams feels like he's one of them. The guys before him had always helped move his career along, now he hopes to give back to the younger guys what he's learned over his first four years at UK.
"I feel like being a senior, I can finally help guys and teach guys. When I had guys teaching me, it made a big difference. I mean the way I played and the way you learned things and take in different things, so it plays a big role in it."
While using six running backs is the plan at the start of the season, even the best of plans can go awry. While Williams never wished for his teammates to get hurt, it was for the reason that he emerged as a capable back in the SEC. Pardue believes all of his backs are reliable, and potentially one play away from seizing and opportunity of their own.
"You're always one chinstrap buckle from being in the game and it could be the play of the game," said Pardue. "The other day, all of a sudden we have two guys banged up and I'm thinking I'm good at six and now I'm down to four. I talk to the trainer, one guys a little bit of a groin irritation, then I only have three. So what happens then? I've learned my lesson. Six is my goal to have at the tailback position."