NFL: Williams looks ahead
By Jim Vertuno
AUSTIN, Texas ó Ricky Williams needed just 11 yards for the record book when he ran for 60, taking a handoff, bouncing off a defender and bolting to the end zone.
For Texas fans, it seems like yesterday that Williams’ long run against rival Texas A&M broke the NCAA career record for rushing yards, propelling him to the Heisman Trophy. In reality, it was 10 years ago.
Since that glorious ’98 season, Williams has traveled the world and bounced in and out of the NFL in a professional career most notable for the “what ifs?” of contract blunders, drug suspensions, injuries and temporary early retirement.
The 2002 league rushing leader is now 31, and the Dolphins running back believes he has a few years left to establish a positive NFL legacy before he pursues his next career: as a physician.
“If someone says their life isn’t full of ups and downs, they’re probably not telling the truth,” Williams said Thursday before the annual Heisman Winners Association gathering at the Barton Creek Resort.
The group is honoring Williams’ 10th anniversary as well as the 25th for Nebraska’s Mike Rozier and the 50th for Pete Dawkins of Army.
On Wednesday, Williams toured the athletic offices at Texas and saw the new construction and expansion at Royal-Memorial Stadium. He also stopped by the trophy case full of his hardware and memorabilia where he admitted he got goose bumps.
“I’ve grown so much as a person and appreciate it all so much more,” he said. “The football part is a lot of hard work, but it came easier to me. Growing up, starting a family and preparing for the future, life after football, has been a journey. In that way, it’s fitting to be back, to let everyone see how I’ve matured and that I’m OK.”
Williams remains a hero to Texas fans who watched him carry the Longhorns in coach Mack Brown’s first season.
“Ricky played a huge role in kicking off our program and getting it started into what it is today,” said Brown, who convinced Williams not to leave school early for the NFL.
While football seldom has been as much fun in the decade since, Williams was relaxed and jovial while talking about his future and snacking on a salad at lunch.
He’s a vegetarian now and his once-trademark dreadlocks hairstyle are long gone in favor of a short smooth cut.
His legacy as an NFL player wasn’t important until his troubles started to overtake the good he had accomplished.
“It was never something I thought about until it turned into a negative legacy,” Williams said. “Now it’s my responsibility to make the life of my family and my children better (by) leaving the game on a positive note … I think people need to know I’m dependable.”
Williams said he believes another former Longhorns running back, Cedric Benson, will turn around his troubled career if given another chance.
Benson, a first-round draft pick in 2005, was cut earlier this month by the Chicago Bears after two recent arrests on charges of boating and driving while intoxicated.
“I’m confident he’s going to be picked up by a team,” Williams said. “He’s got time to turn it around. It’s hard to see the big picture when you’re young, have money and have talent.”
Williams also talked about his world travels the year after he “retired” in 2004, calling it one of the best times of his life.
His favorite spot was a coastal town in Australia. He planned to spend three days there and ended up flopping for a month surfing, reading, whale watching and meeting other travelers, mostly backpackers. No one he met there knew he was a football player and he didn’t tell them.
“They just thought I was some guy from California,” said Williams, who grew up in San Diego.
Williams figures he can put in four more seasons of pro ball. Time away from the game, from his temporary retirement to his 11/2-year suspension for smoking marijuana and violating the NFL drug policy, probably saved his body some wear and tear.
He said he feels good going into Dolphins training camp. He needed surgery to repair a pectoral muscle injured in his only game last season. He has played in only 13 games over the last four seasons.
After football, Williams wants to return to Texas to finish his degree in education. He has a long way to go and needs about 70 credit hours. After graduating, he wants to go to medical school to be an osteopathic physician so he can offer patients a holistic approach to healing.
“When I retired and I had a chance to be by myself outside of being a football player, I found I enjoy helping people and I had a gift for making people feel better,” he said.
Williams said he reads a lot of self-help books, often with metaphysical subjects. But nothing too wild, he said.
“I’m not a UFO guy,” he said.
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