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It is early, but Bulls seem well-grounded

Williams, Dixon run effectively to fill the void left by the departed Dyral McMillan.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


TAMPA -- It's hard to call senior running back Rafael Williams a well-kept secret, considering he's played for South Florida since 1996, the year the Bulls spent the entire fall in practice.

But entering this season, few got excited at the thought of the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Williams starting at tailback. Except Williams, of course, and the teammates who watched him sit quietly last year while Dyral McMillan stole the spotlight.

McMillan became the first Bull to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Williams, plagued by tendinitis, finished with 236 yards, by far the worst of his three seasons.

With both McMillan and the tendinitis gone, Williams seemed reborn Saturday. Against Jacksonville State, USF's career rushing leader had 116 yards and a touchdown, helping the Bulls to a 40-0 rout of the Gamecocks. He has six 100-yard games, one better than McMillan.

More good news: Fullback Otis Dixon, who sat out most of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, had 60 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Marquel Blackwell added 84 yards as the Bulls totaled 289 yards on the ground.

Blackwell had more yards per carry (9.3), but it was Williams and Dixon who had their teammates cheering. The two combined for 15 rushing touchdowns in 1998, but had just one (by Williams) last season.

"Last year, Rafael took his place as a second running back (while) Dyral was trying to make it to the pros," receiver Charlie Jackson said. "He never complained. He just did what he had to do. Just to see him back to his old running form really made me smile."

Dixon had to do plenty to get back to this point -- exactly 11 months, 15 days of rehabilitation and hard work. "All of it was worthwhile," he said.

Williams likely will carry much of the load while the Bulls go easy on Dixon's knee, at least for now. Blackwell will run when he gets a chance and Derrick Rackard also will get work.

But it's great to have them back, offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. "They're both guys you can trust."

They complement each other, running backs coach Calvin Magee said. Williams is "not very fast, just shifty.

"Otis was never fast, but I don't think he has lost a step. I think he's the same Otis now."

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