One of the odder stories of the 2016 college football season came when Utah running back Joe Williams announced that he was quitting the team and quitting the sport of football — only to come back a month later and become one of the best players in the country, rushing for 1,300 yards in seven games.
Williams will be at the Scouting Combine next week, and he’s eager to explain to NFL teams that his brief departure doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the sport.
Instead, Williams told Tom Pelissero of USA Today, quitting football was necessary because grief and guilt he felt over the death of his sister a decade earlier had finally reached the point where he simply had to step away to focus on his mental health.
“People make it a big deal that I quit on the team. To me, it was necessary,” Williams said. “I was learning to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t my fault. I’m 23 years old now, and I can’t blame myself for something that occurred 10 years ago, no matter how painful or traumatic it was. It would be bigger to honor her in a much more meaningful way.”
Williams’ 7-year-old sister died in her bed in the middle of the night of what her family later learned was a disease that caused inflammation of her heart. Williams says he spent years thinking of himself as responsible — not because that’s a rational thought, but because as a boy grieving his sister, he couldn’t think about her death rationally.
“That’s where the guilt comes in,” Williams said. “Because maybe if I had got out of my bed and maybe I’d held her or she knew I was there, maybe she would’ve woken up. That was the biggest reason of why I blame myself.”
Williams says he is in a better place mentally now, and is eager to keep playing the way he did after returning to his team last year. He wants NFL teams to know that he’s now more focused on football than ever.