FAYETTEVILLE – Rawleigh Williams has decided to retire from football, he announced Monday.
The junior from Dallas had to be carted off the field during Arkansas’ final spring practice on April 29. UA officials said the injury was a stinger. It comes just a year and a half after he sustained a season-ending neck injury in 2015.
“It still doesn’t seem real yet, but I really don’t have a choice,” Williams wrote in a letter on Arkansas’ official athletics website. “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 me family.”
Williams wrote that he has watched the replay of the hit from McTelvin Agim and described it as a “normal hit,” which showed him that it wouldn’t take a big hit to trigger a severe injury.
“I also saw the reaction of my mom and my sister,” Williams wrote. “That broke my heart. I can’t do this anymore. I want to be able to walk.”
In the season after his first injury, Williams won the SEC’s regular-season rushing title and finished the year with 1,360 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
That performance earned him first-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. He was also named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week three times, including after his 205-yard, four-touchdown game against Mississippi State, in which he threw a touchdown pass, as well.
Although his immediate plans are not known, it appears Williams will remain in school at Arkansas. He wrote that his long-term goal is to become a general manager in the NFL.
“Thank you to the thousands of people who have reached out to me,” Williams wrote. “I appreciate it more than I can ever explain.
“It’s inspiring to know people care about you not only because of your ability, but because of the person you are and what you stand for. I’ve used my gifts to play football, but my gifts aren’t just playing football. I can’t wait to give more.”
UPDATE: Head coach Bret Bielema, quarterback Austin Allen and center Frank Ragnow have released the following statements...
As a head coach you always remember the first meeting you have with all your recruits and how that first impression is made. 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.
Rawleigh is a guy that every team in college football wishes they could have on their team. 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.
The term uncommon is something we use around football, but Rawleigh defines uncommon as a friend. 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.