Brian Williams is perfectly aware that, technically, this is a mild contradiction, but even at 16, he never subscribed to the typical teenage aura of invincibility.
But when his older brother Rawleigh Williams III suffered a career-ending neck injury during Arkansas’ spring game on April 29, Brian had to concede that he “never really felt like it would happen to me or someone I was close to.”
“It’s weird because you know that it can happen, but there’s a part of you that doesn’t think it will, if that makes sense,” said Brian, a five-star prospect at Bishop Dunne (Dallas). “That day was crazy for me. Just knowing all his my brother’s goals and dreams of playing at the next level, it was hard for me to see it all taken away just like that.”
Rawleigh III led the SEC in rushing for the 2016 regular season, racking up 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns. The neck injury was Rawleigh III’s second; he suffered a ruptured disc in his neck in a game against Auburn in 2015.
Rawleigh III announced his retirement in May.
“I used to love watching my brother dominate games in high school and college,” Brian said. “Just the way he was able to evade defenders and make people miss was crazy to me. And now that’s over? I felt bad for him more than anything.”
Naturally, Brian said he had a brief stint with relating his brother’s misfortune to himself.
As the No. 1 safety and No. 13 player overall in the Class of 2019, Brian is known for doling out a big hit or two every game.
Last season, he racked up 78 tackles, eight interceptions, a fumble recovery, four touchdowns and a runner-up finish at states for the Falcons.
“I had a talk with my brother right after everything happened and he told me to keep playing hard and not to worry about something like this happening to me,” Brian said. “That helped a lot. The reality is, at my position, I’m not getting hit every play. I’m able to hit people instead. Since then, I’ve just had more of an appreciation for being able to play this game. It just made me think different.”
According to Brian’s father Rawleigh Jr., that “different” thought process spilled over to the colleges that are drooling at the thought of having Brian patrol the secondary for them.
“He’s looking more at the schools that aren’t just elite on the field, but elite academically too,” Rawleigh Jr. said. “He’s seen firsthand how important academics are because football can be gone. He’s liking the schools that are gonna do more for him after football.”
Seems spot-on for a guy who boasts a 3.9 GPA and is on track to become a National Merit Scholar.
“He doesn’t have to play football,” Brian’s mother Kimberly said. “We want him to play because he loves to play, but if there comes a time when he doesn’t love it anymore then he’s fine. Having seen what his brother is going through, being able to say that is a blessing. We’re people of faith and we constantly pray over our boys and our daughter and we trust God with their futures.”
For now, Brian said his focus is twofold: Working out and taking visits. By next week he will have visited Texas, Notre Dame, UCLA and Stanford.
As for Rawleigh III, he will serve as a student assistant coach for the Arkansas running backs while he continues to work on his degree. He is currently interning with the Dallas Cowboys and still has his sights set on the NFL, only now as a suit in a front office.
“He wants to be a general manager one day,” Brian said. “He’ll do it too; he’s driven like that. Out of respect for my brother, I don’t even think about the possibility of getting injured. I feel like that would be disrespectful to him. He just went out and played hard every down. That’s what I plan to keep on doing.
“We used to joke around about playing against each other in the NFL one day; now he’ll just be making the deal to get me to his team.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY