Deonte Williams embraces his gold teeth and their powers. Swears by the piece or grill with all the seriousness of a forearm to the face mask.
But the gag is out. The grill is the gag. It's not permanent.
The senior tailback for Cal Poly from Sacramento slips the shiny material into his mouth when he takes the field. He slithers past defenders with a burst or takes on linebackers with abandon, then removes the grill when he feels a bit more mortal. And one thing to know about athletes: Superstition rules.
Cal Poly sports information director Eric Burdick didn't know until recently that the grill was not a fixture, adding, "He fooled me. I'm now looking at a man with white teeth. No idea."
Williams will sport the golden grin today at Sacramento State in a homecoming of sorts. The 7-0 Mustangs, one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, play the Hornets (5-3) at 6:05 p.m. in a Big Sky Conference contest with playoff implications.
"Oh yeah, the grill will be there," Williams said with a laugh. "The grill is part of me, who I am, part of my swag. I like to think it gets my legs charged with a little extra energy from the grill."
A little? Try a full current charge.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Williams has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in six of seven games and leads the Big Sky with 926 (132.3 per game). He went for 187 yards and a score in a 24-22 victory over Wyoming, 188 and three touchdowns in a 28-20 victory over UC Davis and 169 yards in a 37-25 triumph over Portland State.
Williams is a complete back, his coaches say, not just flash to match the grill.
"He brings energy with his physical style of running," Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said at a recent news conference. "There's a lot of good running backs out there, but there aren't a lot of tough running backs out there that like to finish runs. He finishes runs as good, if not better, than anyone I've ever coached."
Williams said the origin of the grill can be traced to his mother's trust. He pleaded with Latanay Williams to purchase what he deemed "wow teeth" while most youngsters craved a cell phone or laptop. She relented, under two conditions.
"Keep my grades up and stay out of trouble," Williams said. "I love my mom and respect her too much to disappoint."
Williams debuted the grill at Pleasant Grove High School as the program's first breakthrough skill player. Williams' coach, Joe Cattolico, rolled with the gold, having seen a lot of Bay Area athletes wear it during his playing and coaching days in San Jose.
"It made me laugh to see him wear it, and that's just Deonte," Cattolico said. "It's neat to see how well he's done."
After rushing for 2,447 yards in 2008 to earn The Bee's Offensive Player of the Year honor, Williams was named the 2009 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year with 960 yards at Northern Arizona.
Before his sophomore season, Williams transferred to Sierra College to be closer to family.
"I remember the grill," Sierra coach Jeff Tisdel said. "I asked him at first if he had some sort of major dental work done. Pulled the thing right out. Funny kid. Love that Deonte."
The grill and good vibes took a breather last fall. Williams said he struggled to adjust to Cal Poly's triple-option offense, in which the quarterback can keep or pitch depending on reads.
Williams managed just 385 yards and five touchdowns.
"I was out of sorts last year and put the grill away, too," Williams said. "I was new here. I didn't know how I'd fit in. New school, new system. It wasn't a memorable football season for me. The offense was alien to me. I was used to being a pro-set style of runner, downhill, but I stuck with it.
"I came here to get an education, to finish my football college career at a great school, and it's worked out. I'm definitely pleased with where we are now at 7-0."