Like it is:

Rawleigh walks away, which was right call

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan, left, and running back Rawleigh Williams pose for a camera during a game against Texas State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Benjamin Krain
Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan, left, and running back Rawleigh Williams pose for a camera during a game against Texas State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Fayetteville.

As Rawleigh Williams approached his locker, he smiled and apologized for being late.

It was football media days in August for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Williams was going to be in great demand. He was No. 1 on the interview list of yours truly, who staked out his locker 10 minutes before Williams was due to handle the onslaught of questions about his rehab and playing football again.

Williams was delayed by a scheduled photo shoot, something quarterback Austin Allen explained in Williams' absence.

When Williams arrived, it was impossible not to see the huge scar on the front of his neck, just below his Adam's apple. It was not pretty, like every other scar in the world.

As a freshman, Williams had rushed for 254 yards until a face-mask tackle by an Auburn player slammed his face into the turf. He was carted off the field, and at the time he had no feeling in his arms or legs.

On each of his 56 freshman carries, the 5-10 Williams seemed a little small, but then so did Alex Collins, who was listed as 5-11. More football and basketball players add an inch or two to their bio than don't.

Of course, in 2015 Williams was running behind a huge offensive line. That offensive line was billed, for two years, as the largest in the world, larger even than an NFL team.

In August, Williams talked openly about his rehab and seeking a second opinion about whether he should play football.

"I would have missed it," he said that day. "I love the game, but I love walking, too."

Last year against a sometimes patched or mismatched offensive line, Williams ran 245 times for 1,360 yards. He also caught 15 passes and even completed one for a touchdown.

He was fine. Mentally, physically and emotionally he was 100 percent. He never hesitated, not from the first time he touched the ball and was tackled to the ground.

Until April 29 in the final spring practice, on a play he had ran hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of times. He and defensive end McTelvin Agim made contact -- certainly not a big or vicious hit -- and Williams went down and immediately said he couldn't feel his extremities.

Once again, he was carted off the football field.

This time, the feeling came back even faster than the first, but the question loomed: What about the next time?

That's why Williams on Monday announced he was hangin'em up. No more football or all the glory and trappings that go with it. No more numbness. No more chance that a football injury could put him in a wheelchair.

It wasn't just the right decision, it was the only decision. Williams and his parents knew that last week, but they didn't want to rush into a life-changing decision without long consideration.

Coach Bret Bielema immediately announced Williams would be moved to a medical scholarship that affords the junior -to-be everything his athletic scholarship provides.

He said he wants Williams to work side by side with him. To learn about recruiting and help coach the running backs.

In other words, he's still a vital part of the team, something Williams needs right now. He's basically played the game his whole life. He played with reckless abandon and passion. He hated to lose and loved to win.

He always displayed character and manners, and he'll be missed.

Rawleigh Williams was uncommon, and he was never undersized. He was as big of a man as there was on the football field.

Sports on 05/10/2017


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