FAYETTEVILLE - Whatever his future as a Razorback, one thing remains clear about Rawleigh Williams’ Razorbacks future.
Among his Arkansas teammates he always will be among the most well-liked.
So they were horrified those long minutes last Saturday when it appeared the junior running back may have suffered the same neck injury that horrified them in 2015.
"It just kind of took the wind out of you," senior quarterback Austin Allen said of Williams on the ground, seeing he couldn’t move and being transported from a cart to an ambulance. "It’s something you don’t ever want to happen to anyone, but especially Rawleigh because it’s his second time. It was just one of those things where it’s always in the back of your mind during practice."
The sturdy 5-10, 226 pounder from Dallas’ Bishop Lynch High School possessed an almost ceaseless smile whether apprenticing that August preseason as Arkansas’ fourth running back to surprising as the top backup behind Alex Collins when co-star Jonathan Williams was lost for the season with a preseason injury.
Seven games into 2016 he went down and didn’t get up, his neck broken.
But he never ceased smiling and his determination never wavered that he would return. And he did leading the SEC in 2016 regular-season rushing, 1,326 yards on 233 carries for the Razorbacks 12 regular-season games and officially finishing with 245 carries for 1,360 after Arkansas’ loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
Since torrential rain and lightning canceled last Saturday’s Red-White game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, the Razorbacks closed spring drills with a "thud" no-tackling to the ground controlled scrimmage inside the Walker Pavilion.
It was a grazing thud, not a hard jolt, by defensive end McTelvin "Sosa" Agim that sent Williams to the ground perhaps landing wrong or perhaps just hit in a vulnerable spot when a horrified Agim heard him say, "I can’t move."
"Rawleigh is my dude," Agim said. "I definitely would not want to hurt him."
Perhaps it was shock. Whatever, Williams did recover to move all extremities before being rushed to the hospital for observation.
On Sunday, Williams tweeted, ""I really appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers and ask that you continue to pray for my family and I. God Bless! #WooPig"
The preliminary diagnosis that was relayed in football terms as a "stinger" a neck injury that while painful is not long term serious.
Nevertheless, he is under medical observation and it will and should be taken as serious business by Arkansas Ccoach Bret Bielema, Rawleigh and the Williams family discussing his football future.
"His health and safety will always be Priority One," Bielema said."We’ll evaluate what the medical people tell us and then we’ll have a conversation together and only do what’s right for Rawleigh."
Bearing that in mind, the Razorbacks have a summer to spend preparing for a possible minus Rawleigh rotation.
It would have sophomore Devwah Whaley, 105 carries for 601 yards and three touchdowns as the team’s second-leading rusher last year, freshman Maleek Williams (no relation to Rawleigh) a December high school graduate who participated in spring drills, Chase Hayden, an incoming freshman from Collierville, Tenn.,, and Juan Day, the talented but multi-injury plagued junior from North Little Rock.
Sophomore T.J. Hammonds, a running back from Pulaski Robinson moved more to slot receiver this spring so he could filling two roles,
could become more running back again.
"We actually repped TJ at tailback today," Bielema said Saturday. "We wanted to give him the first four weeks just unlimited coaching and teaching at the wide receiver position. But this last week we moved him back to tailback on certain plays of our offense. That’s always there. He’s really good with the ball in his hands."
Three 2016 Razorbacks seniors were selected during Saturday’s final day of the NFL draft. Defensive end Deatrich Wise, Carrollton,Texas, went first in the fourth round to the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, where former Hog defensive end is starring.
Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle of White Hall, also a fifth-year senior, was drafted in he fifth round by the Washington Redskins, and Jeremiah Ledbetter, of Orlando, Fla., lettering in 2015 and 2016 as a junior college transfer defensive end/defensive tackle, was drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions.
Catching on with NFL teams as non-drafted free agents include 2016 Razorbacks seniors Drew Morgan of Greenwood; Miami Dolphins; Keon Hatcher, Owasso, Okla, Oakland Raiders; and Cody Hollister, Bend, Ore., New England Patriots; cornerback Jared Collins, Tulsa, Los Angeles Rams; and punter Toby Baker of Memphis to the New York Jets.