Pitt’s Scheme is ‘Dream Come True’ for New OL BJ Williams As He Transitions to Center
As Israel Abanikanda broke Tony Dorsett’s Pitt record for rushing yards in a game against Virginia Tech in October, scoring six touchdowns in the process, he walked into the end zone untouched on a couple of occasions.
It was a 320-yard, six-touchdown performance that wouldn’t have been possible without the big guys up front. And Abanikanda made sure to pose with his offensive line after the performance.
It was exactly what then-verbal commit BJ Williams wanted to see as he watched from Acrisure Stadium — the bond between a running back and his offensive line.
“I was actually at that game, so it was very exciting to see because I love when running backs eat,” Williams said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “They always shout out the offensive line. It builds a connection between us, too, so I just love seeing stuff like that.”
Williams, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive lineman from Creekside High in Fairburn, Georgia, is the newest offensive lineman to arrive at Pitt — the only of Pitt’s offensive linemen to arrive early. And he’s ready to block for the next program record-holder.
Williams originally committed to Memphis, but he quickly became a player that Pat Narduzzi — as he watched film with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. and offensive line coach Dave Borbely — was enamored with.
“(Williams) was committed to somebody else at the time,” Narduzzi said in December. “I remember sitting with the offensive staff and watching the video tape on him, and I’m watching him down blocking and just physically destroy some guys. I’m like, ‘Who is that guy?’ And I think we were maybe watching somebody else, but it was like, get (Williams) on the phone.
“Like, we were just popping through different guys. ‘Hey, what do you think of this guy?’ And they threw (Williams) out. I’m like, that’s what we’re looking for right there.”
Pitt extended Williams an offer, he made an official visit to Pitt 12 hours later and committed right after the visit — but he didn’t announce until a month later in July.
He was originally recruited by secondary coach Archie Collins, but the relationship with Borbely — who has been coaching offensive lines long before Williams was born — was a big reason why he felt comfortable flipping from Memphis to Pitt. “I know (Borbely) has every technique, everything to do right to get into the league,” Williams said. And he’s been watching Pitt’s line for a few years.
“I really watched Carter Warren and Marcus Minor,” Williams said. “They’re great offensive linemen, so I just try to mirror my game across them. They have an edge to them, so they’re always aggressive.”
As Williams watched Pitt’s offensive line in 2022, with guys stepping up across the board to fill in for injured teammates, he loved what he saw. It was a run-heavy offense, leaning on the offensive line to clear holes for ACC-leading rusher Israel Abanikanda. And if there’s one thing Williams loves to do, it’s moving a defender from Point A to Point B against their will.
He loves to run block, as all offensive linemen do, and he feels like Pitt’s offensive scheme is a dream true for his style of play.
Williams was a tackle at Creekside, earning All-State honors as a senior, but Pitt sees him as an interior lineman at the next level. Williams likes being on the inside better anyway, knowing he has protection on the left and right, and he’s being groomed as a center — learning what it takes to marshal an offensive line.
“Really focusing on how to snap the ball, my correct steps, making correct calls to everybody because as center you need to be the leader of the line,” Williams said. “It’s just getting every together.”
Jake Kradel, who stepped in as Pitt’s starting center last season after Owen Drexel went down with an injury and will likely hold his spot, has inserted himself as Williams’ ‘big brother’ already. So, if he has questions, Williams goes to Kradel first.
Kradel is the holdover from a veteran offensive line that returned for the 2022 season, with Warren, Minor, Drexel and Gabe Houy all moving on, and he’s one of the leaders of a new unit that features a mix of veterans and high-upside youngsters. Williams is the newest youngster, and he’s just focused on growing as a lineman.
“Ever since high school, I’ve always been thought of as athletic,” Williams said. “So, I feel like my outside zone blocking is pretty good, pretty honed. Some things that coach Borbely can help me with is probably my second step, getting in the ground faster so I can counter moves.”
Williams has been snapping with early enrollee quarterback Ty Dieffenbach for the last two weeks, getting his first true taste of being a center. It’s one of the adjustments he’s made at the college level, moving to the inside, but he’s played football for a long time. So, it hasn’t been that big of an adjustment. The cold, though, was definitely a struggle.
“When I first got here, the cold was dreadful,” Williams said. “It was killing me inside because I’m not used to being in the cold and seeing the snow all the time. It was a very difficult adjustment for me.”
But aside from the cold, which he’s slowly getting used to, Williams is adjusting to college life in Pittsburgh, working to become the next great Pitt center.
This is a player we can get excited about. Hopefully he develops into a true Pitt Man.
It sounds like he is buying in. Seems he likes to be coached. O line brawlers always needed.
Can’t believe we have to wait six months until real football. Sigh