FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Rawleigh Williams returned to the football field last season following a broken neck only after assurances from doctors.
A second scare that left him sprawled out on the Razorbacks’ indoor practice field last week has ended his career.
Williams announced his decision to walk away from football in an article on the school’s website on Monday, prematurely ending the career for one of the most promising young running backs in college football.
“It still doesn’t seem real yet, but I really don’t have a choice,” Williams wrote. “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.”
Williams, who was third in the Southeastern Conference with 1,360 yards rushing last season, suffered what coach Bret Bielema called a “stinger” during the team’s final spring practice a week ago. He fell to the ground after a light hit during a partial-contact portion of practice, remaining there while trainers rushed to his side before loading him onto a stretcher and then taking him to the hospital in an ambulance.
That came a year and a half after the 5-foot-10, 226-pound running back was originally injured as a freshman against Auburn in 2015 .
While he was able to move his fingers, Williams’ family was on hand for last week’s practice and was clearly shaken by the sight. Williams and his family met doctors and later with Bielema before arriving at the decision to not risk a permanently disabling injury.
“This next chapter in Rawleigh’s life will be filled with unlimited success in any career path or anyway of life he chooses,” Bielema said. “As a head coach I couldn’t be more excited to begin the next chapter with him and be there for him.”
Williams said he was barely able to feel his hand and that it was really weak immediately following his latest injury. He said feeling in his body began to return quickly, but also that he knew the injury “was similar enough” to his previous neck injury.
“The first thing I thought when it all happened was the reaction of my mom, dad, sister and brother,” Williams said. “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 said he has watched a replay of the latest hit, and that because it was a normal hit he now understands that “any little thing can trigger it.”
“I also saw the reaction of my mom and my sister,” Williams said. “That broke my heart. I can’t do this anymore. I want to be able to walk.”
Williams said he plans to continue his education so that he can follow his father’s childhood advice: “Don’t work to just be the guy in the jersey on Sundays. Work to be the guy in the nice suit that’s in the suite of the stadium making all the decisions.”
“I am very grateful,” Williams said. “It is sad but I truly believe God has a plan for my life. I believe I’m going to be blessed more than I could ever imagine. Even though my plan isn’t going to happen, I know that his plan is better than my plan.”