But they look good, I can tell you that much. He (Williams) just looks like a freak athlete. He looks like your prototypical tailback. —Reno Mahe

He’s backing up the backs.

This week Reno Mahe gets his first up-close inspection of BYU senior Jamaal Williams, a candidate to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.

Williams has been out of action for more than a season and a half due to surgery. He withdrew from school last summer but is back this winter, enrolled, prepared and ready to perform under new management.

Mahe, in his first major college coaching job, is also anxious, antsy and anticipating some fun times. What was not fun for the former Philadelphia Eagle punt returner was trying to keep up with his running backs on a routine conditioning run.

“We try to run with them and it’s comical to tell you the truth. It’s sad. They look at me and think, ‘Really? You were a professional athlete?’ It’s really bad.

“But they look good, I can tell you that much. He (Williams) just looks like a freak athlete. He looks like your prototypical tailback,” said Mahe.

Until this week, field work and practice have not been part of Mahe’s experience with BYU’s running backs due to NCAA rules.

“At the end of the day, I haven’t seen Williams with the ball. I haven’t seen any of them in practice or in pads. Our strength and conditioning staff has done a fantastic job with them and first and foremost keeps everyone healthy. It doesn’t do any good to make them All-Americans in spring but have them hurt by fall.”

Mahe calls his new job “awesome” and a lifetime opportunity. “People told me how much fun it would be, but I had no idea I would love it as much as I do.” He says he’s lucky to have a pair of seniors like Williams and Algernon Brown to help him ease into his job because they are leaders, hard workers and set examples.

Mahe is most impressed by the caliber of athletes and character of his players. “Man, I think to myself how much further ahead in life these guys are than I was when I was their age. They are just great kids and when you see how crazy the world is and worry about the future of your own kids, you get around these players and think, ‘everything is going to be just fine with the future in their hands.’ They are amazing and it’s a humbling experience to be around them.”

In addition to Williams and Brown, running backs Mahe will work with this spring include Riley Burt, Squally Canada, Brayden El-Bakri, Bryan Engstrom, Colby Hansen, Toloa'i Ho Ching and Peter Welsh. Francis Bernard has moved to defense.

Much has been made of the return of Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator the past two months.

What is it like to be in meetings with the former Heisman winner?

Mahe tried to explain it to his wife the other day.

“You get some people who are so smart that when they start going over things, they outthink themselves and it goes over everybody’s head. They are just out there and nobody knows what they are talking about. Some get frustrated and others get offended.

“With Ty, he has a calm confidence in his abilities and knowledge. When you go over things, if there is a discussion or questions, his intelligence is evident but he is able to explain it in a way you understand it. He doesn’t speak over your head. Some people try and show how smart they are, but that’s not Ty. Sitting there, I think, ‘Yeah, that makes total sense.’ I’m fortunate to be in a position to learn from his as a coordinator. Just to see the smallest things he focuses on, the details, why he does something because of this and that. It’s like a chess player. You see a play but might not know the background of why it exists and he reveals it. It’s a sweet deal.”

Mahe laughs and evokes the word “genius.” “Ty hates it when we say it, but he’s like a genius at work. He says, ‘It’s just football, guys.’ And that’s the best part, his humility. He may know, but you’d never know he has all that in his head. I just laugh when people say, ‘Yeah, but he’s not experienced.’ I think, ‘Yeah, right, he doesn’t have experience.”

The honeymoon is still going on with this staff, folks.

Stay tuned.

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

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