Early Return

Not long ago, it seemed like Reed Williams would be cheering on his teammates from the sidelines during this week's home opener against Villanova.

The past few weeks have seen quite the change in spirits from West Virginia middle linebacker Reed Williams.

During the final week of fall camp, Williams entered the interview room inside the Puskar Center somewhat sullen and admitted that playing in the season-opener against Villanova was not a realistic expectation. Despite his best efforts in recovering from a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries (one left, one right), the senior from Hardy County would likely have to wait at least one week longer than his Mountaineer teammates to make his 2008 regular-season debut.

One week ago, Williams was a little bit more upbeat. After talking with his doctors, he received the green light to return to practice full-time on Wednesday, August 20 in a blue jersey (no limitations).

As for this week? The pep was completely back in the step of Reed Williams. And with the news that Bill Stewart announced during Monday's Big East teleconference that WVU's defensive heart-and-soul was expected to start this Saturday's opener, why wouldn't it be?

Believe it or not, there is indeed a silver lining to having two shoulder surgeries in a three month span. Once you rehab one shoulder, rehabbing the other seems like a piece of cake.

"That left shoulder, that second shoulder, really came along fast," Williams said. "I think the first round really helped me to push the second round a little bit. I got used to pushing my rehab. I've really gotten better in how I've worked working with Dave (Kerns) and Tony (Corley) and those guys. I give them all the credit in the world. Without them, man, these shoulders are still in rough shape."

Instead, Williams is in phenomenal shape, anchoring West Virginia's deep and talented linebacking corps for one final campaign in Morgantown.

However even with Saturday's seemingly-imminent start, No. 47 would not go so far as to say that he is completely 100 percent. In the opinions of his doctors, his coaches and himself, though he's healthy enough to give it the old college try against Villanova.

"Still not full strength," he admitted. "I'm getting stronger, though. I still can't do some motions, so I'm still restricted a little bit. I can definitely get out there and run around. Like I said, you can't hold back. You've got to go out there and run around and hit them in the mouth, so you can't really worry about it being out on that field."

The presence of Williams will be a good boost for a defensive unit decimated by graduation. With his availability for week one a pleasant surprise, perhaps no one is happier for Williams than his teammates and coaches.

"Reed is cleared to play so we are very happy for him and we're excited," said fellow senior linebacker Mortty Ivy. "He has taken a lot of reps and now he's cleared so we'll see what happens."

"Reed is a self-motivator and he has grown up crossing his T's and dotting his I's," added Stewart. "He's accountable and he's been that way his whole life. He is so meticulous and there is always a plan. He's a person you'd like to have in your life and he's a great role model. He's particular and that's why he was so diligent with his workouts and if anyone deserves to play, he deserves to play."

While his strength may not be completely back in his arms, Williams's legs are arguably more fresh than any other pair of legs on the two-deep. Having not participated fully in any preseason practices prior to last Wednesday, there aren't nearly as many miles on his wheels as there would be had he been cleared for full practice from day one of fall camp.

"I feel fast. I got some time off for the legs more than anything," he explained. "It felt good flying around, hitting people in the mouth and I'm really enjoying every day."

More than anything else, Williams is happy to be feeling healthy for the first time in a long time.

"I played hurt for the past year and a half, so I'm used to it now," he said. "It's kind of weird being healthy. It feels great. I can't wait."

With this week's news, Williams's wait in 2008 will be shorter than even he expected.

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