NEW ORLEANS — In the stands of Tad Gormley Stadium, Tulane football fans anxiously watched to see whether the offense would perform under the direction of two new quarterbacks. But for coach Curtis Johnson, the day’s biggest score came before the spring game.
Warren Easton linebacker Edward Williams signed a national letter of intent Saturday morning and will attend Tulane this fall. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect was the last prize on the Louisiana recruiting market.
Williams opted to wait on making his decision after a flood of late offers from Arizona, Miami and others — not to mention a dispute with his family about signing with Texas Tech. That came months after decommitting from Texas A&M.
“He is huge for us to get,” Johnson said. “A&M dropped the ball on this young man, and we fell in love with him. We always thought he was one of the best players in this state, and we know he’s one of the best linebackers. I expect big things. I expect him to come in and do a lot of damage.”
Williams credited Tulane for staying in the mix despite the drama, and the school became a favorite of his family. Now Tulane can add another three-star prospect to its roster in the form of the nation’s No. 27 inside linebacker, according to Rivals.com
“There was never really one factor that did it, but it came down to agreeing with my parents and agreeing with my grandparents,” Williams said. “We all agreed upon Tulane. (Johnson) kept it real about everything and told me the pros and the cons from the beginning.”
While most of the buildup to the spring game came from intrigue at quarterback, the Green Wave also are in need of a boost from its running game, which was 119th in the country last year.
Running backs Orleans Darkwa and Lazedrick Thompson each busted loose for 21-yard touchdown runs during red-zone drills Saturday, a sign Johnson called “promising.” Darkwa’s run punctuated what Johnson termed a fantastic spring from the rising senior, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2012.
“We had such a tough time getting out on runs like that last year and, when I turned the corner and saw blockers lined up in front of me, it was just a great feeling,” Darkwa said. “I think we are so improved in our ability to run the ball, and today was kind of the start of showing that.”
Tulane racked up 116 yards on 30 carries (a 3.9-yard average), and guard Adam Skidmore said it was a cohesive effort by the offensive line, which returns four starters.
“I thought one of our goals in the spring was to bring the offensive line along, and I think we’ve done that,” Johnson said.
Thin depth at tight end got even tighter when Matt Marfisi was forced to miss the past two weeks of spring practice because of an injury, prompting sophomore Sydie London to take every snap at the position.
London took advantage, catching two passes for 21 yards while evaded five tacklers on one play to earn a first down and one of the day’s loudest ovations. London has shot up the depth chart; he’s the likely starter when fall camp opens in August.
“I think Sydie is a heck of an athlete,” Johnson said. “I think he is performing far and away better than I ever expected he would perform.”
Tulane fans received an unexpected sneak peek when defensive tackle Chris Davenport played despite suffering a sprained ankle last week that Johnson said would keep him out for the rest of the spring.
The LSU transfer played limited snaps but provided a glimpse of what his 6-foot-4, 330-pound frame can provide in the middle of the defensive line.
“I was very surprised he could play,” Johnson said. “I’ll just tell you that peer pressure is something else now. Our team was teasing him, and all of a sudden he can get out there.”
Johnson admitted frustration when the topic of injured center Zach Morgan came up. The senior missed all of last season with a shoulder injury suffered off the field and has practiced less than a week this spring because of various ailments, including hamstring issues.
“I told him today in a meeting that I’m looking at these young guys, and I’m looking at them as guys he may be losing his spot to,” Johnson said. “He has to get out, and he’s got to play.”