CLEARWATER — Jarius Williams spent his days in the shadow of Clearwater High's highly touted running back.
Adarius Lemons got the headlines. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder was powerful and fast, a four-star recruit on the wish list of nearly every major college program.
Williams, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, was the understudy, always wondering what it would be like to switch places.
Two months ago, Williams got his chance.
Williams was thrust into a starting role after Lemons was reassigned to Pinellas Secondary for the rest of the semester after getting caught with marijuana a second time.
"It was a surprise to be starting, but things happen," Williams said. "It was just next man up, and I had to take advantage of my opportunity."
There was pressure. Tons of it. Williams was suddenly entrusted with keeping the Tornadoes (11-0), a favorite to make a deep postseason run, afloat.
Williams has thrived as a starter, rushing for a team-high 809 yards and nine touchdowns. He did not just salvage the running game. Williams' emergence helped Clearwater go undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 1970 and win a playoff game last week for the fourth time in program history.
"I'm certainly not surprised by his success," Clearwater coach Don Mesick said. "I've seen him every day in practice so I knew he was a good running back."
When Williams arrived at Clearwater two years ago, he was too talented to keep off the field or be relegated to junior varsity. He was a starting defensive back as a freshman. Last season, Williams remained a starter in the secondary and was the third-string running back.
The plan this year was for Williams to be the primary backup to Lemons and take over as the starter in 2017. Everything changed in September when Lemons was reassigned.
Lemons had pressure of his own. He spent the summer contemplating his college decision. He had committed to North Carolina before switching allegiances to Florida.
For two months, Lemons wavered on his decision. Then he ran into trouble.
There was the marijuana possessions as well as a low score on the ACT (15) that he needed to raise to even qualify to play at a Division I-A program.
In October, amid speculation from recruiting analysts and on message boards that the Gators were looking for a backup plan at running back, Florida offered Jesuit's Malik Davis. The senior, who broke Hillsborough County's all-time rushing mark this season, quickly committed while Lemons was left wondering if he was still in the Gators' plans.
"The Florida coaches said they were concerned about the test score but they still wanted me and were not going to pull my offer," he said.
Mesick confirmed the Gators "would like to have him, but there was concerns with everything that happened."
Still, Lemons re-opened his recruiting.
"I needed to get myself right and I didn't want to be a distraction for the team before I even got there," he said. "There was so much with everything, especially in getting the test score. I felt it was the right decision at the time."
Lemons is now getting tutored twice a week. He takes the ACT again on Dec. 10. He continues to work out, and Mesick said he will be able to attend Clearwater when the next semester starts in January.
"It was hard to be away from the team," Lemons said. "I can't attend the games, but I still try to keep track of them. I heard Jarius is doing really well at running back."
Williams is not the same runner. He is not as fast as Lemons nor a strong. But Williams is patient, has shifty feet and can break off long runs just like Lemons did a year ago.
"Jarius is a much smoother runner," Mesick said. "He has great vision, too. We're just different on offense. We run some things that Jarius is really good at. We're in a great place on offense with Jarius.
"We didn't lose anything. It was just a change that turned out to be a positive for us."