It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid September and Larkin running back Jalen Williams was feeling unstoppable.
By halftime of a nonconference game at Lake Forest Academy, the senior had already scored on touchdown runs of 20 and 24 yards and was zeroing in on 150 yards rushing for the day. Yet, his best moves were still to come.
In the second half Williams - who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 160 pounds - only got stronger. He finished off the signature game of his high school career with scoring runs of 78, 23 and 14 yards to lead Larkin to a 40-21 victory. He ran around defenders, over defenders and faked a few out of their cleats with his deft cutbacks.
Williams carried the ball 33 times for 364 yards and 5 touchdowns that day, a rushing total that tied him for the 49th-highest, single-game total in state history, according to reported IHSA records.
"I would get the ball and it would be like, 20 yards, 30 yards, touchdown," Williams said. "The chemistry was all there and I felt like I could do anything," It wasn't the only time he would feel that way.
Williams rushed for 303 yards against Streamwood, 250 yards against East Aurora, 189 yards against South Elgin and 171 yards against both Elgin and McHenry. In 9 games played by Larkin (5-4), Williams topped the 100-yard plateau eight times. The only team to hold him in check was St. Charles North, which limited him to 53 yards on 21 carries.
He finished the season with 1,754 yards and 18 touchdowns in 240 attempts, averaging 194.9 yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry. He was selected to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association all-state team in Class 7A and finished second in the voting by coaches for Upstate Eight Conference offensive MVP.
For these accomplishments, senior tailback Jalen Williams of Larkin High School has been named honorary co-captain of the 2009 Daily Herald All-Area team in the Fox Valley. He shares the honor with Cary-Grove senior fullback Eric Chandler.
Williams benefitted from an improved offensive line compared to the group that blocked for him as a junior, when he rushed for 517 yards and 3 touchdowns on 88 carries.
"I thought we had a chance to be pretty physical," Larkin coach Matt Gehrig said, "and with Jalen's toughness and athletic ability the plan was going to be to give him the ball a lot more than we did as a junior.
"After doubles we did the major installation of our offense and I think it was pretty clear to him and the rest of the team, based on the things we were working on for our first game against McHenry, that he was going to get a lot of touches. We never really took him aside and told him that. It was more of an unspoken thing."
Williams was ready to carry the load. Not an avid weightlifter, he said he concentrated last summer on building endurance through cardio conditioning and footwork drills. That preparation was apparent in his relentless running style. Williams could cut on a dime and outrun most any opponent in the open field.
"He slashes and his movements are violent in nature," Gehrig said. "He'll keep his shoulders square and won't give it away to a defender that he's about to make a cut. Then he'll suddenly plant and cut either to the outside or back against the grain very violently. He runs with his knees up and behind his pads very well.
"He's got great balance and body control. He's not that tall, but his running style, his gait and his build really remind me of a smaller version of a Gayle Sayers-type of back. He doesn't have to slow down very much in order to make a pronounced cut in any direction. He has the ability to stop and start and make people miss.
"Combine that with the fact that pound for pound he's physically the toughest player I've ever coached and it's a pretty good recipe for success."
Despite the moves he learned from older brothers C.J. and Will Carter, Williams describes his running style as relatively straightforward.
"When I have success, basically, there's not too much juking or moving around," he said. "I'm just moving up field as fast and quickly as I can. There's not too much movement. I'm not the biggest guy, but I can take the most hits and get around people."
Williams' biggest supporter was his mother, Lynette Williams. She attended her son's games since his days in the Elgin Pop Warner system and cheered him on throughout his magnificent senior season.
Sadly, Lynette Williams passed away on Nov. 2, 10 days after Larkin's season concluded. Lynette had battled breast cancer for three years. Treatments, including chemotherapy, had left her body's immune system vulnerable, according to friends. Lynette contracted the H1N1 virus, which, combined with diabetes, took her life unexpectedly.
Four days before she passed away, Lynette, then healthy, accompanied Jalen and Gehrig to an awards banquet at Walter Payton's Roundhouse in Aurora. There Jalen was given that establishment's Upstate Eight Conference co-MVP award along with St. Charles East's Nolan Possley.
"It meant a lot to me to have her see me get an award like that," Jalen said. "I'm glad she got to see me play in my senior year at my peak. It was good she got to see me do it."
Jalen plans to continue his football career at the college level. He has solid offers from Division II schools Upper Iowa and Winona State and several other programs in the Midwest have shown interest.
It was Lynette's wish was for her son to go to and play football. He said one of her favorite phrases will motivate him at the next level just as it did in high school.
"There was one thing she used to always tell me: 'Go out there and do something amazing,' " he said. "I kept that in my head because I wanted to show my mom what I could do."
Past Fox Valley all-area captains
1995 - Eric Miquelon (Larkin)
1996 - Vince Webber (Larkin)
1997 - Vince Webber (Larkin)
1998 - Matt Schabert (Larkin) and Kevin Kaplan (Cary-Grove)
1999 - Matt Schabert (Larkin), Travann Hayes (Larkin) and Clint Reames (Jacobs)
2000 - Dan Sheldon (Burlington Central) and Colin Williams (Elgin)
2001 - Brett Borchart (Huntley) and Eric Kramer (Bartlett)
2002 - Brad Podge (Bartlett) and Trent Steckel (Crystal Lake South)
2003 - Doug Sanders (St. Edward) and Averill Sutchar (Bartlett)
2004 - Kent Martin (Bartlett) and Brian Mitz (Cary-Grove)
2005 - Jake Goebbert (Hampshire) and Alex Kube (Cary-Grove)
2006 - Andrew Lorman (Cary-Grove) and Paul Duyckinck (Burlington Central)
2007 - Sam Campbell (Prairie Ridge) and Cam Kinley (Larkin)
2008 - Jordan Neukirch (Huntley) and Kyle Zelinsky (Bartlett)