No. 29 Jamal Willis – Running back – 1991-1994
Yes, Jamal Willis is not spelled the same as Jamaal Williams but he was still the first Jamal. Willis was one of the best running backs to ever play for BYU (No. 4 to be exact) and that is because of his slippery running style and his ability to find open spaces out of the backfield. While BYU was undoubtedly a pass first team (and even perhaps a pass second) Willis was so good that Coach Edwards actually changed the style of his offense a bit to let Willis be the kind of offensive threat he was.
Willis was the only running back during the entire Lavell Edwards tenure (28 years) that was a multi-year 1,000 yard runner. In fact, Willis holds two out of the five 1,000 yard rushing seasons period.
In 1994 when the Cougars played 15 games, they needed a running back to help Steve Sarkisian out so that defenses wouldn’t be able sell out on the pass. With 15 games, it would get somewhat easy to scout out the Cougars if they only passed the ball.
Willis changed BYU Football and perhaps Lavell Edwards. Prior to Willis’ arrival, the only 1,000 yard rusher for the Cougars was Pete Van Valkenburg all the way back in 1972. After Willis, Brian McKenzie, Ronney Jenkins and Luke Staley all went on to be 1,000 yard running backs themselves. Jamal Willis also helped out tremendously while he played by scoring 40 touchdowns. He also scored in eight games that ended up being one score games, most of those being during the 1994 season.
2,970 rushing yards, 1,095 receiving yards, 302 kick return yards and 18 passing yards. That is a grand total of 4,305 yards. To this point, if I’m not mistaken, that is the most career yards of any player on this list that is not a quarterback. Willis was the ultimate threat from all over with the ability to take the pitch, a direct handoff or catch out of the backfield. He currently sits in the top five all time at BYU in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, all purpose yards and rushing yards in a season.
Memorable Moments B
BYU Football was either winning by quite a bit or losing by quite a bit while Willis was playing. Because of that there are some limits on his great memorable moments. Some of the moments that do stick out however include the game where he single handedly defeated Notre Dame scoring all three touchdowns. In the game earlier that season against New Mexico he had two scores on 230 all purpose yards. Finally, against Utah in 1992, Willis went off for 143 yards and a score to help the Cougars to a 31-22 victory.