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Temple RB Zaire Williams back at full strength

Something just didn't seem right with Temple running back Zaire Williams. He knew it and the Owls coaching staff realized it.

Temple University running back Zaire Williams. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Temple University running back Zaire Williams. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

Something just didn't seem right with Temple running back Zaire Williams. He knew it and the Owls coaching staff realized it.

Finally, there was a reason for the lack of explosion in his game.

Williams, who will be a redshirt sophomore, had a bulging disk in his back last season. He saw limited action in the Owls' opening 37-7 win at Vanderbilt, with 17 yards on seven carries. Then an MRI exam revealed his season-ending injury.

Williams said he didn't need surgery but went through strenuous rehabilitation. He has been the talk during the early going in Temple's spring practice.

The Owls began contact at workouts on March 28. Never did getting hit feel so good to the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Williams, who is graduate of South Jersey power Timber Creek.

"I feel good - there was no pain at all," Williams said after practice last week. "I was tentative at first and after I got the first contact out of the way, I felt no pain."

In his freshman season, Williams rushed for 533 yards and three touchdowns. That rushing total placed him third on Temple's freshman list behind Bernard Pierce (1,361 yards in 2009) and Paul Palmer (628 in 1983).

Last season was different. When Williams wasn't bursting through holes during preseason practice and in that opening game, coach Matt Rhule knew it was a sign that something was wrong.

"He wasn't making good cuts and didn't look explosive in the hole," Rhule recalled. "He was fourth string because that is how he looked, but there was a reason why."

Williams said he felt discomfort but felt he could play through it. "You don't want to miss reps," he said. "It is just that it turned out to be more serious than we thought."

Of all the positions on this year's team, running back is among the most unsettled, something Rhule acknowledged.

Temple has three other running backs with experience: junior Jahad Thomas, who gained 384 yards, senior Jamie Gilmore, a three-time letter winner, and redshirt freshman David Hood.

The Owls have recruited three highly regarded running backs in T.J. Simmons, who originally committed to UCLA, Jager Gardner of Black Mountain, N.C., and Millville product Ryquell Armstead.

Rhule said he has been encouraged by Williams' earlier showing.

"He has a tremendous attitude and is extremely coachable and intelligent and we can utilize him in a lot of ways," Rhule said. "He has had a good camp."

Williams also has earned a greater appreciation for the game after last season.

"I definitely missed it more than I thought I would," Williams said. "As spring ball came closer, I had trouble sleeping at night."

Now he is sleeping easier, knowing that he is back and is able to take the pounding that his position requires.