Arkansas star running back Rawleigh Williams III decided his latest neck injury suffered playing football will be his last. Williams announced his retirement from the game Monday in a long letter penned for his school's website.
"I'm moving onto the next chapter of my life," Williams wrote. "It's tough to not be able to play football anymore because I've been playing since I was four years old. It wasn't something I wanted to do or planned on having to do so early. I've prayed, listened to my doctors, my parents and my gut.
"It still doesn't seem real yet, but I really don't have a choice. I've dodged the bullet twice. I realize that at the end of the day I want to live a normal life and be around my family."
Williams, who led the SEC in rushing during the 2016 regular season, averaged 5.6 yards per carry and picked up 1,360 yards with 12 touchdowns just one year after missing the 2015 campaign due to a neck injury.
He was set to enter the 2017 campaign as one of the SEC's best offensive players,-- it was called following his injury -- "shook" coach Bret Bielema, the program and his family.
Williams was diagnosed with a stinger.
An outside zone run to the left side. I've run that play literally hundreds of times in my college career. Maybe more.
This outside zone run to the left would be my last.
Not again. I remembered the feeling. It didn't last as long so I wasn't as nervous, but I knew something was wrong. I knew that it was similar enough to the last time. ...
I've seen the replay. I saw a normal hit. That scared me. It shows me it doesn't take a big hit at this point. Any little thing can trigger it. I also saw the reaction of my mom and my sister. That broke my heart. I can't do this anymore. I want to be able to walk.
"As a head coach you always remember the first meeting you have with all your recruits and how that first impression is made," Bielema said Monday. "Rawleigh was committed to another school, but after a visit with him and his father, I knew we had a chance. We said at the time that unique recruiting stories often lead to unique experiences in the years ahead and that has been no disappointment. Rawleigh handled his recruiting with maturity and class and that followed into his playing career.
"At Arkansas, not only does he have All-SEC academic success, but he also steps away as the reigning SEC regular season rushing leader. This next chapter in Rawleigh's life will be filled with unlimited success in any career path or anyway of life he chooses. As a head coach I couldn't be more excited to begin the next chapter with him and be there for him."
Williams' Razorback teammates reacted to the news with sorrow, highlighting his accomplishments on the field and speaking highly of him off the field as well.
"The term uncommon is something we use around football, but Rawleigh defines uncommon as a friend," offensive lineman Frank Ragnow said. "He is a guy in the locker room who everyone loves, always seems to be in a good mood, works extremely hard and is the same guy every day. He does everything the right way and that is why it breaks my heart that this happened to him. It is because of all of these traits I know he is going to thrive off the field as well. I'm going miss blocking for 22, aka the SEC leading rusher, but I know he's going to be very successful and attack this stage of his life full speed."
For Arkansas, the future at running back is now in the capable hands of sophomore Devwah Whaley. Whaley is a powerful back from Texas with a few bright spots during his freshman season as a rotation player behind Williams and good reports coming out of spring practice and offseason training.