Williams Pauses, But Refuses to Quit
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sunday was the annual Ohio State Media Day where the entire team gathers to get their photos taken and mingle with family before being released to the media to have questions like "What are your goals for the season?" asked over and over again.
Photo by Jim Davidson
For the most part, the questions and answers go off without any hitches, and reporters get enough material for a couple weeks' worth of stories.
However, there was one answer given on Sunday that had a quite noticeable hitch.
Senior defensive end Nathan Williams, who is still fighting his way back from microfracture surgery on his knee, was asked a seemingly innocuous question. He was asked if he had been trying to convince his coaches that he was healthy enough to practice at full speed.
"Yeah, I'm trying to convince them that I'm ready and that I'm..." and then he took a long pause to close the curtain on the emotion that was welling up in him. He glanced up to the sky to collect his thoughts at everything he had done to get to this point, and then continued.
"It's been a long, long process with this and I want them to know how hard I've been working, and I want to prove to everyone that I'm still the player that I was before.
“I just want everyone to know, throughout this whole process, it’s been rough. But I promise them, they’re going to get the very best of Nathan Williams.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Williams hurt his knee early in fall camp last year and then rested for a couple of weeks in hopes of being ready for the season opener against Akron. He ended up starting the game against the Zips, but knew in the first quarter that something was wrong. It would be the only game that he played in last year.
For the next couple of weeks, he tried to simply rest his injury, but it wasn't enough and he ended up having arthroscopic surgery on his knee. It was after that surgery when he was told he would also need microfracture surgery, which carries with it a long recovery process, and one that isn't ever guaranteed for athletes.
When you see Williams talk about what he's been through, and what he's missing, you see a player who is so close to something that he loves so much, and yet has been unable to physically put his hands on it for a seemingly interminable amount of time.
Everything he is putting himself through is done just so he can get back to doing what he almost can't survive without.
When Urban Meyer talks about Williams, you can tell that he has legitimate respect for the amount of work that has been put in, and the level of desire that has been necessary to make that work a reality.
"Your heart bleeds for a guy like Nathan Williams, and I'm starting to really know that guy," he said earlier in the week. "Taking football away from him is like—that kid lives for it. It's been hard. It's not been an easy road."
On Sunday, Meyer talked about what he sees when he watches Williams work out, and you can tell there may be nobody pulling harder for him than Meyer is.
"We’re counting on him," Meyer said. "He’s working so hard. Every time I see him over there, he’s training so hard. You train your whole life. He’s a football guy. He loves Ohio State, he loves his teammates, so we’re doing all we can. He’s a good guy. We’re really pushing him."
While Meyer says they have been pushing him, the coaches and medical staff have still had to take Williams' return slowly because he would practice full-go if they'd let him, which is just a further testament to what football means to him.
Meyer says that they have "governored him" in order to keep him from encountering a setback, but Williams said that each day provides its own test.
“Every day is a new obstacle for me to improve, so I've taken it day by day. So far that's been a good thing for me, and I'm going to continue with the same outlook on everything.”
That outlook has had a jumpstart in the past month just based on the results that Williams has seen in his rehab. Putting himself at 90% physically, he credits the work that strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti has put in with him, as well as a physical therapist that has "really been helping me out a lot."
It has been a team effort to try and get Williams ready for the season opener, but it would have literally been a pointless exercise if Williams himself wouldn't have bought into exactly what his recovery was going to involve.
He has either been dealing with his injury, or the surgical aftermath of it, for exactly one year now, and while he may have had questions about whether or not he would return, he never let those questions get the best of him.
He may have paused, but he never quit. Like most good pass rushers, he wouldn't take no for an answer.
Nathan Williams' plan is to play in the season opener on September 1.
His plan is also Urban Meyer's hope, if for no other reason than to see football return to someone who loves it so dearly.
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