‘I knew he was there with me tonight’: Iowa football’s Leshon Williams honors late father with touchdown at Rutgers

After missing Iowa’s game against Nevada for his father’s funeral on Sept. 17, the 21-year-old was the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher on Saturday night.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras hands the ball off to running back Leshon Williams during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 27-10.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

Iowa football running back Leshon Williams scored the Hawkeyes’ first offensive touchdown of the game against Rutgers on Saturday night.

And that touchdown, he said, was in honor of his late father. 

Williams ran into the end zone untouched after avoiding a defender on a 2-yard play. After he made it into the end zone, his teammates immediately surrounded him.

“That’s a beautiful feeling, especially after losing your father,” Williams said on Saturday night. “Getting that touchdown, I knew he was there with me tonight. So, that touchdown meant a lot to me.”

Williams’ father died earlier this month. His funeral service was on Sept. 17 — the same day that Iowa took on Nevada at Kinnick Stadium. 

While Williams couldn’t be with the Hawkeyes against the Wolf Pack, he said everyone on the team — head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and a lot of his teammates — texted him before the game to make sure he stayed in good spirits.

“It was real tough, but that’s my father, so that comes first,” Leshon said of missing the Hawkeyes’ game against Nevada. “… but they made me feel like I was there. I watched the game, there was the rain delay and everything, I was still up at 3 o’clock watching it on TV. I felt like I was a part of it.”

Williams was back with the Hawkeyes by Monday, and he said he fully practiced in the week leading up to Iowa’s first road trip.

“I can’t imagine what he’s going through, but he didn’t let that affect his preparation or how hard he works, which is something to be said,” senior quarterback Spencer Petras said. “It’s an extremely challenging thing he’s been dealing with for the past couple weeks, so my hat’s off to him.”

Ferentz commended the 21-year-old running back for his consistency and steadiness throughout practices this week. Williams, the second-string back, was Iowa’s leading rusher against the Scarlet Knights, recording seven carries for 64 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s just been really steady,” Ferentz said. “Clearly, it’s been a tough couple weeks for him. I feel badly for anyone who has to go through that, especially someone at his age. It was great to get him back, he was back with us Monday. His attitude never changes, and it was good to see him play like he did tonight.”

Williams’ performance was part of a run game that started to click for the Hawkeyes in their fourth game of the season. 

True freshman Kaleb Johnson gained a total of 58 yards on 15 carries on Saturday night. First-string running back Gavin Williams, who has played limited snaps in the first four games of the Hawkeyes’ season because of an ankle injury, had 26 yards on seven carries.

Overall, the Hawkeyes gained 168 yards on the ground.

“Every step right now, for us, is important,” Ferentz said of improving the run game. “It’s one of our team goals. It’s pretty simple during the week, you want to win the game that’s in front of you and hopefully improve. … really happy to see some growth.”

Leshon Williams attributed the improvement in the rushing game to the offensive line. Iowa’s offensive line has been a carousel through the first four games, with around eight players rotating around five spots.

Now, the Hawkeyes’ O-line is settling into a rhythm. Sophomore left tackle Mason Richman, junior left guard Nick DeJong, sophomore center Logan Jones, redshirt freshman right guard Beau Stephens, and sophomore right tackle Connor Colby make up the Hawkeyes’ first-team offensive line.

“The O-line had been working their butts off all week,” Leshon Williams said. “As you could see how we run the ball, all backs were running hard. Kaleb, Gavin, me, it was really just panning out. Without the O-line, all the work they’re putting in Monday through Friday, there wouldn’t be no us. We got to the second level real nice and smooth this week.”