Senior Karl Williams put an exclamation point on his great spring camp performance Saturday with a 10 carry, 101 yard effort in the all-important last, real scrimmage of the Utes' five week session. With an early camp injury to assumed starter Kelvin York, Williams, along with Lucky Radley and James Poole, has taken full advantage of the opening left by York's absence.
For his efforts, Williams finds himself grid-locked in a four-way tie for the starting running back position. After strong performances by Williams and Radley Saturday, that picture may have begun to clarify somewhat. Though it's true that a spring camp starting job doesn't equate to a starting job come fall, ending spring at the top of the depth chart means a foot in the door come early August.
In getting to that place, Williams has put in an inordinate amount of work during the off-season, including the continued struggle with his seemingly on-going, see-saw weight issue.
"I came into spring at 246, because I thought I was going to be playing fullback role again. But then finding out that we were moving to the spread and with [Dennis] Erickson coming in, they told me that if I wanted to play running back, it was there for me," Williams recalled. "The decision to lose weight was really up to me, because carrying the ball as a running back, I feel more comfortable around 230 pounds, so I started trying to lose."
In addition to his already heavy time investment, managing his weight and diet has been just another commitment, for both Williams, and his wife.
"Right now I'm at 236, so I'm getting there. My wife makes me chicken salads every single day, so that's what I eat, and I'm definitely on a diet right now," Williams shared. "Off-season workouts are going to be tough for me, but I'm just going to try to balance it all to keep from gaining. I'm just going to work hard to get down to that weight."
Of course, hard work, struggle and sacrifice are nothing new for any collegiate athlete, particularly at the highest levels of competition. What sets him apart is simply that Williams has intentionally chosen the more difficult path at his own cost and as well as the grace and character with which he has traveled along his challenging path.
As an All-state running back at Layton High School (Utah), Williams rushed 145 times for 998 yards and 13 TDs on top of 300 receiving yards as a senior. Coming out of high school, Williams drew interest from Utah, Stanford, Princeton and snagged a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy. Ultimately, Williams accepted a scholarship from Southern Utah University, and headed to Cedar City, where he never had a rush attempt, but caught five passes for 27 yards in seven games.
Unsatisfied and convinced that he could play at a higher level Williams left Southern Utah, which meant giving up a free education in the form of a football scholarship.
"I played my freshman year at Southern Utah, and I just decided it wasn't for me. I thought I could play at this level and I wanted to try it," Williams recollected. "I thought about it, and I decided to give up my scholarship and try to walk on at The University of Utah."
"When I got here, they were honest about the chances, but they said there was a small chance that I could earn a scholarship," said Williams. "So I just decided that I would do everything I could, whatever it took for however long it took to earn one."
What it took was a commitment, a drive and an absolute clarity of purpose, as Williams toiled in the Utah program for three years. With a much-admired work ethic,Williams did whatever it took from gaining and losing weight, switching positions and whatever else was asked of him, and usually more.
Over time, Williams became one of the most respected players on the team as he worked tirelessly and waited patiently for his time and opportunity.
"I did everything I could, I just did everything 100 percent. Special teams, scout teams, whatever it was," he recalled. "Showed up at 6 A.M. and did everything the scholarship guys did, but I did it for three years without a scholarship. I gained weight, I lost it, I changed positions. I feel like I did everything I could to earn one."
Indeed, Williams' path wasn't an easy one, with a wife and child at home to support in addition to his academic and athletic responsibilities.
"I had a wife and a baby, I was going to school, playing football. So it was rough. I went through some hard times," Williams vividly recalled. "I did some valet parking, and some other stuff. Whatever I could find to do to earn money, but still be able to play football."
Finally, on February 22, 2013, head coach Kyle Whittingham announced in front of the team that Williams had earned a full-ride scholarship.
"It took me three years of hard work to get a scholarship. I think of everything I had to go through, all of my special teams work, in the weight room and on the field, I just finally realize that all of it finally paid off," Williams said as he looked back on his three year struggle.
The announcement of Williams' news was captured on video, and the bruising back was stunned and emotional, almost unable to grasp the reality of something so impactful and life-altering.
"I was very surprised. It was a very emotional moment, because not only was it emotional for me, but for my wife and for my mother, my mother-in-law, my dad and my father-in-law," Williams shared. "It was emotional for all of them because they all knew everything I had gone through, and had gone through it with me."
Still raw and at the fore-front of his mind, Williams recalled how he shared the news with so many family members who had struggled and sacrificed along with him.
"It was really in the morning, so I didn't want to call anyone. So I just went home, and my wife was still asleep. I just jumped on top of her and I told her and she said 'No, you didn't', you're just messing with me'. I just said again, 'I got a scholarship' and she just freaked out," he said, enjoying the recollection. "My in-laws found out, then my dad. Then we went to my mom's work and when she heard, she collapsed on her knees and cried. It affected everyone around me and it was like no one could believe it at first."
Glad that the last struggle is over, but equally thankful that he experienced it, Williams now turns his attention to another, suddenly attainable new goal.
"I've just been biding my time, kind of in the shadow of other guys, guys like John White, who is a great back," Williams acknowledged. "But now, it's my time to prove to the coaches what I can do so that I can get on the field. I'm going to do everything I can to win this job. I want it."
Having persevered for so long, effectively waiting in the wings for both a scholarship as well as playing time, Williams' quest was less about money or glory than it was about proving something to himself, and to anyone who may have doubted him along the way.
Given the duration of Williams' struggle, it ironically took only the course of just over one month for his life to take a drastic, 180 degree turn. For not only did Williams suddenly find himself with a scholarship in February, he unexpectedly has a viable opportunity for not just playing time, but a possible starting role."
"All of it, the scholarship, my whole spring, my performance in camp is all confirmation to me that I really can play at this level. When no one thought I could do this, or play at this level, I've finally been able to do it," he informed. "That I have a chance to compete for a starting job is just something I'm thankful for, it's all I could ask for. I proved to myself, and everyone that I could do this. So it's good, I'm happy. I can't complain."
As Ute fans follow, and root for the under-dog Williams this season, whatever he does on the field will have been the product of not only an off-season of hard work, but rather multiple years of sacrifice, a passion and a spirit that refused to quit.
Given the heavy price that he, and his family have paid to get him to this point, anything else that happens in 2013 is just gravy because, ultimately, he knows he has already won.