A nasty injury, a couple surgeries and a threatened career didn't derail Josh Williams' career, despite the odds.
FAYETTEVILLE - Not many players can get away with declining a coach's offer. Josh Williams did. He told Bret Bielema thanks, but no thanks.
Looks like a good decision. A few months later, Williams is back on the first team as a linebacker at Arkansas.
"I don't think I was quite done with football," he said.
Williams, now a senior, remembers that night last year in Knoxville well. He immediately knew something was wrong. He was in pain and it was more than just a sprain. Turns out, his bone had snapped.
It was a season-ending injury no matter what. Williams broke his leg in the second of Arkansas' 24-20 in over Tennessee last year at Neyland Stadium. A team already struggling to find linebackers around Brooks Ellis had just lost its second most experienced. Williams had to have a rod put in his leg, the break was so nasty. At the time, coach Bret Bielema said it would be, at least, a four-month recovery. Williams never saw it coming on the field.
Things got worse. Williams had complications after surgery. He had to have another operation to clean up some things. Bielema spoke publicly in February like maybe Williams' time as a player was done. Williams carried a bag around that drained blood from his near constantly. All day. Every day. Circumstances were so bad Williams was offered a coaching job. The belief he'd play again was that far out the window.
That's when Williams declined.
"They offered me a coaching job as an assistant," Williams said. "It had been a long road to recovery in the offseason with Matt Summers (Arkansas' director of athletic training). He was grinding with me. Everything. He was making sure I was getting prepared to do what I'm doing right now and that's back on the field."
Whether he stays at linebacker or not is to-be-determined. Bielema mentioned Sunday during Arkansas Media Day he had conversations with Williams about moving to fullback. As of Monday, Williams was working out as the first-team strongside, or SAM, linebacker.
Therein lies the so-called 'thing.' Arkansas won't use a SAM linebacker often. More than that, they need a third linebacker, period. Doesn't matter if it's a strongside, weakside (WILL) or middle (MIKE). Dre Greenlaw and and Brooks Ellis have to play fewer snaps than they did last season. They just must, linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said.
"I think finding that third guy that hopefully can do a lot of different things for you is important," Hargreaves said. "I think with the teams that we face and we're going to face throughout the season, that third guy is critical because that way I can at least get some rest somewhere in a game for the two that are in the game the whole time."
Enter Williams. The position is there for the taking. Khalia Hackett, Dwayne Eugene and De'Jon Harris are the primary competition. Williams was ahead of the first two last year before being hurt. If he can prove his leg is full-strength, he may be that guy that gives Ellis and Greenlaw a rest every now and again. Maybe he's the SAM on the rare occasions (LSU being the most likely and most often opponent) Arkansas plays its base 4-3 scheme. Even in just five games last year Williams had the third most tackles on the team last year. It was clear on Media Day from both Williams and Hargreaves, Williams-at-linebacker is something that can work.
Or maybe Williams moves to fullback after all and has a final hurrah there. A couple more weeks of camp and a determination will be made. And he has his preference, sure, but he's not going to sweat it, either way.
"I almost lost my leg," Williams said. "I really think I’m supposed to be in the hospital now instead of out here making plays."
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