FAYETTEVILLE — The second scare of his football life marked his last one, Rawleigh Williams confirmed Monday.
For the University of Arkansas junior running back from Dallas posted Monday he will play football no more, that it ended April 29, the second time as a Razorback he was carted off the field to an ambulance with a neck injury that temporarily rendered him unable to move.
Williams, who recovered from a broken neck during the 2015 game against Auburn at Reynolds Razorback Stadium to be the SEC’s regular-season leading rusher in 2016, injured his neck again and was hospitalized again during Arkansas’ final April 29 spring practice inside the Walker Pavilion.
He had recovered full movement before being transported from the field but the second experience with brief paralysis was his last football risk, Williams posted on arkansasrazorbacks.com.
“I’m moving onto the next chapter of my life,” Williams wrote. “It’s tough to not be able to play football anymore because I’ve been playing since I was four years old. It wasn’t something I wanted to do or planned on having to do so early. I’ve prayed, listened to my doctors, my parents and my gut. It still doesn’t seem real yet, but I really don’t have a choice. I’ve dodged the bullet twice. I realize that at the end of the day I want to live a normal life and be around my family.”
That his family hovered terrified as he was again strapped and removed from the field obviously weighed heaviest.
“My family is the most important thing in my life,” Williams said. “The first thing I thought when it all happened was the reaction of my mom, dad, sister and brother. I didn’t want them to go through this all over again. I just wanted to stand up to calm them down and show them that I was ok.”
Williams recalled the April 29 deja vu to Oct, 24, 2015 vs. Auburn and feeling some comfort that he quickly knew the injury wasn’t severe yet feeling disturbed the hit during “ thud practice” without full tackling to the ground affected him so severely.
“It didn’t last as long so I wasn’t as nervous, but I knew something was wrong,” Williams wrote. “I knew that it was similar enough to the last time.Everyone got to me quickly. When they tested my hand strength I could squeeze, but it was really weak and I could barely feel it. I was trying to calm everyone else down. I remember thinking and then saying “Everything is coming back to me. I can feel my body. Let me get up please.”
Watching the replay did not reassure him.
“I saw a normal hit,” Williams said of the contact made by defensive end McTelvin Agim. “That scared me. It shows me it doesn’t take a big hit at this point. Any little thing can trigger it. I also saw the reaction of my mom and my sister. That broke my heart. I can’t do this anymore. I want to be able to walk.”
Williams, 56 carries for 254 yards and a touchdown his 7-games 2015 freshman season prematurely ended by the first injury, thanked his teammates, Coach Bret Bielema, and offensive coordinator Dan Enos and said he relished coming back to lead the SEC in 2016 regular season with 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns on 233 carries plus catching one touchdown pass and passing for a touchdown before finishing the 2016 season with 1,360 yards on 245 carries after the 35-24 Belk Bowl loss to Virginia Tech.
“I gained a lot from playing again during my sophomore season,” Williams said. “Things that no one can ever take away from me. I led the SEC regular season in rushing in my first season as a starter. I threw a touchdown pass (thanks Coach Enos). I grew with my teammates. I stayed healthy. I proved to myself that I could do it at the highest level in the SEC.”
A finance major on the SEC academic honor roll, Williams thanked Bielema for proposed efforts to help further his post football playing career.
“Coach B has been someone I’ve looked up to since the day I met him,” Williams said. “He’s always been there for me. I’m grateful to him for the opportunity to play football at the University of Arkansas and in front of the best fans in college football. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’m going to earn during the rest of my time here. I can’t wait to work under him and learn. I want to be a General Manager one day and he’s already helped me look into career paths to achieve my goals.”
Following Williams’ post, Bielema, senior quarterback Austin Allen and senior center Frank Ragnow all issued statements regarding Williams’ decision.
“As a head coach you always remember the first meeting you have with all your recruits and how that first impression is made,” Bielema said. “Rawleigh was committed to another school, but after a visit with him and his father, I knew we had a chance. We said at the time that unique recruiting stories often lead to unique experiences in the years ahead and that has been no disappointment. Rawleigh handled his recruiting with maturity and class and that followed into his playing career. At Arkansas, not only does he have All-SEC academic success, but he also steps away as the reigning SEC regular season rushing leader. This next chapter in Rawleigh’s life will be filled with unlimited success in any career path or anyway of life he chooses. As a head coach I couldn’t be more excited to begin the next chapter with him and be there for him.”
Allen and Ragnow both lauded their ever smiling always optimistic teammate.
““Rawleigh is a guy that every team in college football wishes they could have on their team,” Allen said. “He’s hardworking, unselfish, determined and an all-around great teammate. When your best player is also the one who treats others with respect, is the hardest working, and one of the best in the classroom, you know that guy is special. That will be Rawleigh’s lasting legacy with this program Just because his playing career is over doesn’t mean he won’t have an influence on all of us for his rest of his time at the University of Arkansas. He will be with us every step of the way through this upcoming season. We should all strive to do it the ‘Rawleigh Williams way’ because if we do that, the sky is the limit.”
Ragnow spoke with equal eloquence.
““The term uncommon is something we use around football, but Rawleigh defines uncommon as a friend,” Ragnow said. “He is a guy in the locker room who everyone loves, always seems to be in a good mood, works extremely hard and is the same guy every day. He does everything the right way and that is why it breaks my heart that this happened to him. It is because of all of these traits I know he is going to thrive off the field as well. I’m going miss blocking for 22, aka the SEC leading rusher, but I know he’s going to be very successful and attack this stage of his life full speed.”