The Hoover defense struggled to contain Burbank's James Williams in the sophomore running back's first Big Game.

The Hoover defense struggled to contain Burbank's James Williams in the sophomore running back's first Big Game. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer / November 2, 2012)

A star on the Burbank High freshman football team last season, things came easily for running back James Williams, as he was able to pile up the yards.

“Running the ball started to come easier for me last year,” said Williams, who gained more than 1,900 yards for the Bulldogs last season.

But making the jump to the varsity level this season has been an eye-opener for the sophomore.

“It’s a lot harder,” he said. “Things just don’t come as easily because you play against teams and players that are better and tougher.”

With a lot of hard work, Williams has seemed to have made the transition nicely. In the annual Big Game Friday against Burroughs at Memorial Field, Williams’ talents were on display. He had 14 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown of 89 yards to pace the Bulldogs to a 37-14 victory.

At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Williams is an elusive runner who is hard to corral. The Indians found that out Friday. His touchdown run was an example of how easily Williams can turn a modest play into big yardage.

“On that touchdown run I was supposed to run in the middle, but I got outside and I just kept going,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to make it harder, but I wanted to make it a highlight. I saw a hole on the inside, but I just broke it to the outside.”

Burbank senior running back Teddy Arlington is a fine runner in his own right, having tallied 10 touchdowns this season. However, when he’s not carrying the ball, he doesn’t mind clearing the way for Williams.

“I really like blocking for him and helping him maybe break some big plays,” Arlington said. “I’ve seen him get some pretty big runs.”

A Burbank running back having a big performance in the Big Game has been a rarity in recent years. In fact, it has been Burroughs backs who have put up impressive efforts in the cross-town rivalry.

Last season, Burroughs’ Zander Anding ran for 349 yards and fellow Indian Dalton Williams accounted for 208 yards in the 2009 Big Game. The Indians also received 307 yards from Dominique Barnes in 2008 and Joe Wiggan powered for 278 in 2006.

“It’s nice to be among guys like that,” Williams said. “I’m just glad I was able to do my part to help. I really wanted to do this to help the seniors get to the playoffs.”

Burbank Coach Hector Valencia said he has seen Williams mature as a runner as the season has progressed. The coach said along with his speed, Williams has taken a pounding, but always manages to come up with big plays and turn in spirited efforts.

“He didn’t have that many touches tonight,” Valencia said. “But every time he touched the ball you were like holding your breath waiting to see what he was going to do. He has the ability to break off a big run at any time.

“The great thing about James is he’s very passionate and he’s a very hard worker. The way he plays is the same way that he practices. He just goes all out all the time.”

Although he admitted he was nervous before Friday’s game, Williams said he is looking forward to more Big Games.

“I have two more shots,” he said. “I can’t wait.”