False modesty is often subtle, but if you pay close enough attention you can pick up the signs of a healthy ego, hastily hidden. Forced laughter. Awkward pauses. Stilted language.
Ask Andre Williams about his experience to date as a Heisman Trophy candidate and now finalist, and you’ll get none of that.
The big back laughs when he’s asked if he’s been able to get his head around the whole thing yet, and pauses before answering -- but to consider the question and not because he thinks humble would play better with fans. It’s just how he is, and this Heisman experience was so far off his radar -- heck, off anyone’s radar at Boston College -- as to render the whole thing a bit, well, we’ll let him describe it.
“It’s still surreal because it’s not really something that I could’ve imagined or foreseen before the season,” he said by phone Wednesday from Orlando, Fla., “and just in the last month things have been moving so fast, it’s a lot to swallow all at once.”
There was more to digest on Thursday night at The Home Depot College Football Awards show in Orlando, when Williams was named the Doak Walker Award winner -- the first BC and ACC back to win the honor, given annually to the nation’s top running back -- and a first-team Walter Camp All-American.
Even his offensive linemen, his biggest boosters -- literally -- didn’t see this coming.
“If you had asked me last winter, I would not expect these type of numbers,” right tackle Ian White said late in Williams’ 329-carry, 2,102-yard, 17-TD season. “But once we got into spring ball and I started learning this offense, [I could] see that this is exactly the offense that Andre needs to be this successful and he’s taken it and run with it. It’s unbelievable.”
What has been a wild week started simply for Williams, with class on Monday afternoon, followed by a couple of interviews and a trip to Chestnut Hill Mall. His older brother, Ervin Jr., who’s eight years older and has always been an inspiration for Williams, told him he needed to look sharp this week.
“Yeah, I had a suit,” Williams said with a laugh. “I needed a tie and a pocket square, just trying to look nice. ... He told me my belt needed to match my shoes, as well, so I had to go get a brown belt.”
That led to Williams missing the announcement of the Heisman finalists, busy at Brooks Brothers. He got the news in a text from longtime BC associate athletic director Barry Gallup, and to celebrate the news ... he went to Eagles Deli with his girlfriend.
Hey, even Heisman finalists have to eat.
But the pull of the Heisman interrupted that meal, as Williams was summoned back to campus for a conference call.
“It’s been really busy,” Williams said of the week since the announcement. “I didn’t really have an itinerary from the start, and I didn’t know if I was going to New York on Saturday. So it’s really just been a waiting game figuring out what’s gonna happen at the end of the week, what I’m gonna need, what I should be prepared for, preparing for the end of school and everything.
“There’s a lot going on right now, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Williams had his last class as a BC student on Tuesday, a review for a final on the 17th, and flew to Orlando on Wednesday. He had media obligations Wednesday evening and during the day Thursday, which also happened to be his graduation day. On Friday, he took an early flight to New York, where more duties awaited.
“They said as soon as we hit the runway, I’m running around here and there,” Williams said. “It’s gonna be a lot of things.”
And while Williams earned his way to the Marriott Marquis in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) by running over and through many defenders, using a Heisman statuette-worthy stiff-arm at times, he hasn’t been trying to hold this experience at arm’s length.
Asked what he’s hoping for on Saturday night, when he’s considered a long shot to win with Florida State QB Jameis Winston the front-runner, Williams had an easy answer.
“I’m just hoping to meet a lot of great players and learn about the history of the game and the history of the other great players that have the pleasure of being involved in the whole process,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to represent BC as best as I can throughout the whole thing.”
Though that might have seemed disingenuous coming from anyone else, from Williams it just rings true. The running back is keeping things in perspective, even with all the awards hoopla swirling around him.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Williams isn’t also enjoying the fruits of his labor.
Need evidence? Go straight to the source, check his Twitter feed from Thursday morning:
Hmmm today I think I'll go for room service breakfast nd a hot shower. It is my graduation day after all albeit from 7 states south haha!
— Andre Williams (@drewill44) December 12, 2013
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.