Bret Bielema summed up the irony of what turned out to be the last football play Rawleigh Williams III would ever run. Shortly after Arkansas’ final practice of the spring, one in which Williams went down in a rather routine, non tackling, eleven-on-eleven drill, Bielema said to reporters, “When I’m driving to work with a cup of coffee I always say, ‘What-the-heck is going to happen today that I have no idea’s going to happen? Well, that one right there. That was it.”
Just a short time earlier Arkansas’ veteran head coach had been visiting with Williams and his family.
“They were all in my office not just discussing Rawleigh but there’s another one (younger brother Brian Williams) who is a pretty good player as well,” Bielema recalled. “So we were having a conversation about the future just an hour before practice.”
But a few minutes into that practice Bielema found himself standing over Williams as medical personnel worked to prepare the junior-to-be running back for a trip to the hospital following what was described as a “stinger” suffered on routine off-tackle play. Williams had dropped to the ground after contact with defensive end McTelvin Agim who immediately knew something was very wrong with his teammate.
“I heard him when he fell,” Agim would later recall, “and I just heard, ‘I can’t move.’ It most definitely scared me.”
The media was on the north side of Arkansas’ Walker Indoor Pavilion and could not see the reaction of Williams’ mother Kim as she joined Bielema to check on her son while work continued to secure his neck for an ambulance ride to the hospital. But later, viewing video from the other side of the field, it was this reporter’s belief that Williams’ playing days had come to an end.
Kim Williams briefly conferred with Bielema and then her shoulders dropped. Her body language said it all: Not this again.
Williams had undergone surgery to repair a dislocated disc in his neck following a previous injury suffered in the 2015 Auburn game. The operation was successful and after consulting with his doctors a family decision was made that Rawleigh would continue to play football. But there were indications that Kim Williams had been a hard sell before signing off on her son’s return to the field.
Still Williams tweeted the good news to Razorback fans everywhere. “I am very blessed,” he wrote. “The doctors explained that I’m very lucky and should fully recover. My family and I are thankful for your prayers. WooPig.”
On July 7th of 2016, as Rawleigh was going though summer conditioning drills at the University of Arkansas while preparing for his return to the playing field, he learned that five Dallas police officers had been killed by a lone gunman who fired at them during a Black Lives Matter protest in the city.
Rawleigh Williams Jr. is a member of the Dallas police force. Rawleigh III quickly called to check on his dad. The conversation was brief. Williams thankfully learned that Rawleigh Jr. was safe and at home.
“My wife and I were watching the news and he (Rawleigh III) was like, ‘I’ll let you go back to watching the news. I was just making sure you were okay,’ ” Rawleigh Williams Jr. recalled.
“I never really thought how scary it could be until that moment,” Rawleigh III would later say. “He’s my hero.”
It was in that moment that Rawleigh Williams the college football player fully understood what Rawleigh Williams the police officer went though watching his son being attended to on the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium the previous fall.
For Kim Williams both situations, her son’s injury and the dangers of her husband’s job, prompted a call for the family to draw closer together and fully embrace the time they shared with each other.
“To appreciate life more,” Kim Williams told the Razorback Nation. “To show our love for each other even more than we had before. Always end all the calls and say good bye with, ‘I love you.’ “
In the days following Williams’ second injury, as doctors evaluated his situation, the young man once again used Twitter to explain his new dilemma, telling Hog fans: “I really appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers and ask that you continue to pray for my family and I. God Bless!”
There was nothing more until a final tweet from Williams nine days after his second injury: “One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I’ll continue to live by Proverbs 3:5-6. #wps,” he wrote.
In a follow up explanation of his decision to give up football Williams referred to his family.
“My family is the most important thing in my life,” he stressed. “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. 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.”
“My dad always told me when I was little … ‘Don’t work to just be the guy in the jersey on Sundays,” Williams added. “Work to be the guy in the nice suit that’s in the suite of the stadium making all the decisions.’ ”
In the end it was a family decision because that’s the way things work with Dallas police officer Rawleigh Williams Jr. his wife, two sons and daughter.
Family comes first.