Time and space. That’s what Arkansas junior running back Rawleigh Williams Jr. needs after the injury he suffered last Saturday in the Razorbacks final spring practice.
Williams asked for Hog fans to pray for him and his family following his second neck injury in three years of football with the Razorbacks through a Twitter post.
Williams suffered a pinched nerve or what is commonly called a stinger from taking a hit on a carry during the team-drill portion of the practice that was attended by members of his family and viewed by a SEC Network’s audience.
While a stinger is a spinal injury, it is not catastrophic, and it usually is not career threatening.
The injury is called a stinger or a burner because the sufferer feels a stinging pain run down his arm. The injury can cause temporary paralysis and weakened muscles.
Only a doctor can give a diagnosis, but players usually bounce back from the effects in a week or two. Some have played through stingers in the past, but that’s more unlikely today with the greater emphasis on player safety at the college level.
It was a tense moment for everyone at the practice and for those watching on TV who are familiar with the much more severe injury Williams suffered in Arkansas’ 2015 game against Auburn at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
On a carry that ended near the sideline, Williams absorbed a blow that fractured a disc in his neck. The injury came close to severing his spinal cord. Though his ability to walk and his life was threatened, Williams made a strong recovery.
Williams not only played last season, but also led the Razorbacks and the SEC in rushing during the regular season with 1,326 yards. Williams fell to third place in the SEC with 1,360 yards for the season after the Hogs’ rushing game was stonewalled in a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
Going into the spring, Williams was considered to be not only one of the best running backs in the league, but also one of the best in the nation. He was on his way to being a preseason All-SEC selection. That could still be in the cards for Williams.
However all the possible accolades that might be coming his way were pushed to the side Saturday after another hit left his arms paralyzed for a short time.
A replay of the incident, a clean and non-vicious hit from Arkansas defensive tackle McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, showed Williams attempting to get up after spinning to the ground, but being unable to sit up.
The replayed showed Williams flexing his waist muscles in an attempt to set up, but he couldn’t. His arms were flayed out straight from his torso and were immobile.
We can only imagine what was running through his mind much less his family members who came from the sidelines to check on and comfort their son and brother.
Arkansas exercised all caution with the injury, stabilizing Williams to a gurney before carting him to an ambulance that carried him to the hospital for tests.
From reports, Williams had regained movement and feeling in his extremities before the precautionary trip to the hospital. The SEC Network reported that Williams called the situation embarrassing because he wanted to walk off the field by his own power.
However, there was nothing but concern for Williams etched on the faces of every coach, player, trainer, doctor, or bystander pictured during the SEC Network’s coverage.
While injuries aren’t foremost on the minds of college players while practicing, each player knows that one could happen to them on any play, even in a non-tackling drill like the one Williams went down in Saturday. Every Razorback also knew the courage it took for Williams to rehab and return to the game they all love.
Most rehabs are terribly painful. All are mentally and physically challenging. No player wants to endure a second one.
It was touching to see the coaches and players pray together at least twice while EMC prepared Williams to be taken to the ambulance.
It was also touching Sunday when Williams reached out to the Razorbacks fan base through Twitter to ask for continued prayer for him and his family. It shows how much the young man respects and cares for the Razorback Nation to involve them.
This certainly is an emotional time for Williams and his family. At the time of this writing, Arkansas has not updated the media on Williams’ condition, and there really isn’t a dire need for them to do so.
In all likelihood, Williams is recovering well from an injury that is not as serious or complicated as some faced by collegiate athletes on a daily basis.
However, recovering from the physical injury doesn’t address the emotional pain that his family is likely feeling. As stated before, Williams’ mobility and life were threatened by his previous injury and another neck injury has got to be incredibly scary.
Emotions are no doubt running high, and Williams may be considering whether he wants to return to the game or not. He also may want to return, but is caught in a spot where his wishes are contrary to a beloved family member or members.
That’s why he and his family need time and space to make the right decisions for them.
Like every Razorback fan, I hope that Williams will be scoring touchdowns for the Hogs this fall in a rejuvenated rushing attack, but most of all, I hope Williams and his family make the best long-term decision for them.