Returning Was ‘Obvious Choice’ for Nathan Williams
By Brandon Castel
With Florida fans and players celebrating around him on the field at EverBank Field, Nathan Williams paused at the 20-yard line.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He was headed for the ramp to the locker room, where most of the Buckeyes had disappeared quickly after a 24-17 loss to the Gators in the Gator Bowl, but then he heard a familiar sound.
The chimes from Carmen Ohio had started to ring, and while the Buckeyes don’t generally stay after to sing the alma mater following a loss on the road, Williams couldn’t resist the opportunity to stop and reflect.
As the Ohio State Marching Band played in the corner of the end zone, Williams swayed back and forth to the music before tossing him arms up to form the O-Hi-O ending before he and freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier headed to the locker room.
Shazier took off in a jog, leaving Williams to hobble his way up the ramp by himself, something the senior defensive end became quite accustomed to this season after suffering a season-ending knee injury early in the year.
“It was unfortunate, but I’m not going to whine and complain about it,” he said after the Gator Bowl.
“It is what it is and I’m going to better from it for next year.”
Despite rumors to the contrary, Williams told The-Ozone.net he has applied for a medical redshirt—which he should unquestionably receive after playing in only one game this year—and he plans to return to Ohio State next season for a fifth year.
“It was the obvious decision to make for me,” Williams said, dispelling talk that he might try to go the professional route despite not playing since September.
The 6-3, 255-pound defensive end was expected to be the top returning player on Ohio State’s defensive in 2011, but his season lasted less than one game. He recorded two tackles in OSU’s 42-0 win over Akron in the season-opener, but probably should not have even been out there.
“I hurt myself in the first week of camp,” Williams admitted.
“I battled and tried to get my way into playing. I played the first half of the Akron game and it killed me every second. I was just doing it for the coaches and showing them how much it meant to me.”
Williams had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, but that didn’t take care of the issue. He was forced to undergo a second surgery, which effectively ended his senior season.
It didn’t take long for Ohio State to figure out just how much he meant to them, and to their defense, which would look like a shadow of the one that helped the Buckeyes win 12 games a year ago.
“I think losing Nate Williams probably hurt us schematically as much as anybody,” former defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said just before the bowl game.
“We had high hopes for him to be the opposite side of Johnny Simon and felt like we'd have two guys that could get off the edge and could give us some pretty good pass rush. Nate always gave us that opportunity to drop somebody in the coverage and did a good job of that.”
A guy who worked his way onto the field as a true freshman in 2008, Williams had become one force on the Buckeyes’ defensive line. He tallied 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his first three seasons at Ohio State, including a team-high 4.5 sacks as a junior in 2010.
With Simon expected back for his senior season, and a talented group of young defensive linemen—both on the current roster and on the way—the Buckeyes should be much better defensively next season.
Adding a healthy Williams to the mix might give them the best defensive line in the Big Ten, if not the country, but there is no telling exactly what version they will be getting following knee surgery.
He is still walking with a limp, but said the doctors expect him to be full-go for the start of fall camp. That is still seven months away, but microfracture surgery—which is intended to generate cartilage growth—is not always the same for everyone.
Some athletes, such as Jason Kidd, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Yzerman and John Stockton have made full recoveries and returned to their pre-surgery form in a year’s time.
Others, however, such as Chris Webber, Ron Harper Allan Houston and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, were never the same after their surgeries. Former Ohio State center Greg Oden has had the surgery on both knees and has yet to recover.
A lot of it depends on the individual athlete, but also on their dedication to rest and rehab.
“It’s been good,” Williams said of his road to recovery.
“Just keep icing my knee pretty much every hour of the day. I’m doing everything I can to be as healthy as possible for next year.”
The thought of a healthy Williams next to Simon and Johnathan Hankins—along with the addition of Blue Chip prospects like Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence—is downright scary.
Right now, it’s only a thought.
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