Joe Williams briefly quit football at Utah, wants NFL to know why

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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.

23 responses to “Joe Williams briefly quit football at Utah, wants NFL to know why

  1. It’s always a big deal to quit on a team, and there shouldn’t be any surprise NFL clubs would need assures he still has passion for the sport. If a player has any emotional problems which may prevent him from giving 100%, then it’s time for him to step aside and let someone have the opportunity.

    Perhaps Williams should have sought help long ago, getting closure is the only way to move forward.

  2. So his excuse for retiring and quitting football was because he’s mentally weak? Doesn’t bode too well in a sport your paid to play and form. It may work in college where your not paid but in the NFL your paid to perform and if you start having anxiety about it and your already mentally weak?

  3. The inability for some people to forgive themselves can cause a whole host of problems. (Even if it wasn’t their fault) It sounds like he was able to come to grips with it and forgive himself. Kudos to him. Hope it allows him to move forward

  4. I’d rather him be right and come back than be wrong and not perform at the NFL level.

    To me, this is a man making decisions and not problem.

    If his story checks out, then I’d have no problems drafting him.

  5. He is still a kid. He handled his problem like a man and came back. What is wrong with that? He does not have a drinking problem or drugs. He was grieving over the loss a sister. Many adults never get over the loss of a loved one.

  6. Childhood traumas just don’t fade away. His sister and her death should always be more important than football. He recognized a problem and dealt with it. Sounds like an honorable young man to me.

  7. Yes, PFT geniuses, he literally risked his football career and MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to take care of his emotional health. What a tragically immature thing to do. Just think of it – spending time, losing face, jeopardizing the trust of the NFL.

    I’m being sarcastic but I’ll be clear because most of you don’t understand sarcasm.

  8. So this guy is a mediocre back with very modest stats his entire career prior to his retirement. He leaves for about a month and comes back as an absolute beast of a back? yesh, there are no red flags there regarding his “training” methods.

  9. It sounds like a legitimate reason to take a break from football. Unfortunately, it also sounds like the things agents advise their clients to say when questioned about situations like this.

    The best way to find the truth is to talk to his teammates and coaches. If Williams explained it to them when he left the program, it will be strange to hold it against him now.

  10. This guy’s draft stock just shot up in my book. He recognized the problem, came to terms with it, and shared it in a way that humanizes him.

    Hope he makes it at the next level.

  11. I dont know much about the situation. But the way its worded to describe it as “quitting” opposed to leaving the team for personal reasons is pretty huge. That would have to be something I think the GMs/scouts would have to fish out of his coach.

  12. The subconscious mind does not think rationally. The Id, Ego and SuperEgo. Psychology 101.

    Good luck young man.

  13. Williams should be applauded for having the guts to take time off to get the help he needed . To me Williams shows the type of maturity that NFL teams should be looking for on draft day . Never easy to seek mental health help even more so for someone in the public eye . The type of courage he displayed in making his decision will also help him succeed on the field as well .

  14. For the couple of class A jerks ripping on him – shut your mouth and get back to me when you’ve lived through anything closely related to what he had to. Losing a baby sibling is awful, especially when you yourself are young and emotionally immature. He’s still young for goodness sakes. It can take many years to fully come to grips with this sort of trauma. I don’t want to hear jack unless you can tell me you’ve walked in his shoes.

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