Utah running back Joe Williams was once a 23-year old football retiree. But ever since he came back to the program, two weeks ago, the dazzling tailback has made opponents wish his hiatus was more permanent.
And while his name now fills numerous national headlines, it should be pointed out that even before he ventured back into the Utes' locker room, the Allentown, PA native was tearing up defenses as a member of the ASA football team in Brooklyn.
The former Avenger shattered Mike Anderson's previous Utah single-game school record (254 in 1999) with 332 yards rushing on 29 carries, Saturday, at UCLA, which was the most in an FBS game since Oklahoma's Samaje Perine ran for an NCAA-record 427 yards against Kansas in 2014. Williams's efforts earned him Athlon Sports Offensive Player of the Week honors after gashing the Bruins' defense in front of its home crowd.
The performance was a great reminder of just how stellar Williams's career was at ASA, where he led the Northeast Football Conference in rushing, averaging 156.1 yards per game. He finished the football season with 1,093 rushing yards on 163 carries and was named to the first-team all-Northeast Football Conference team in 2014.
That season compelled Utah running backs coach – and former national champion head coach – Dennis Erickson to take a flier on a relatively forgotten running back. Williams, who once committed to UConn, was a Rivals two-star running back. But what was overlooked was the heart and desire from within the 5-foot-11, 205-pound back that was nurtured on the Brooklyn campus.
Utah was Williams's only offer. But to get a better perspective of how underrated and special he was as a back, take note that it wasn't talent, but rather a future NFL draftee standing in way of earlier national recognition – Devontae Booker, who was this year's fourth-round pick of the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
If not for the Heisman Trophy-worthy talent of Booker, America would've gotten a sooner glimpse of one of Brooklyn's finest – and quite possibly a retirement that may have never happened.
A month-and-a-half ago, the senior Williams quit football, noting that isn't wasn't fun anymore – and even "overwhelming" to him at times. But when a spate of injuries decimated Utah's running back stable earlier in the season, his former teammates and coaches came calling. He accepted the invitation and the rest is now school and Pac-12 history.
In just his two games back, Williams is already halfway to 1,000 yards on the ground. His 511 yards already ranks him second in the Pac-12, despite other running backs getting at least a month's head start on him.
His head coach, Kyle Whittingham, is grateful for the 180.
"I can't say enough about that young man, [and] what he's meant to our team the last two weeks now," said Whittingham. "What a blessing it is for us to have him back and how unselfish it was for him to come back. It was legitimate when he stepped away. He was hurting."
Now, Williams is hurting Division-1 defenses weekly, just like he did at ASA College – and making everyone associated with the Brooklyn campus proud.