Williams suffered his first neck injury before the 2015 season, causing him to miss the whole year. During the final play of the Arkansas spring game, he suffered another hit which proved to be his last.
“It’s tough to not be able to play football anymore because I’ve been playing since I was four years old. It wasn’t something I wanted to do or planned on having to do so early,” Williams said in his letter, entitled “The Next Chapter.”
Head coach Bret Bielema is more than supportive of Williams’s decision, and is excited for him to move on to his next chapter of life. “This next chapter in Rawleigh’s life will be filled with unlimited success in any career path or anyway of life he chooses. As a head coach I couldn’t be more excited to begin the next chapter with him and be there for him,” Bielema said Monday.
With the junior running back leaving, there are some big question marks for the future of the Razorbacks offense.
The most likely answer is sophomore Devwah Whaley, who ran for 602 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Whaley has big shoes to fill, but he has already shown talent on the field.
Williams will obviously miss his team and his coaches, but he remained optimistic in his open letter, finishing it by saying “I am very grateful. It is sad but I truly believe God has a plan for my life. I believe I’m going to be blessed more than I could ever imagine. Even though my plan isn’t going to happen, I know that his plan is better than my plan.”
The Gators showed promise during last year’s season, finishing 9-4. The offense remains strong with a slew of returners, and a new quarterback ready to take the reins, Felipe Franks. He threw for 2,766 yards and 35 touchdowns in his senior year of high school and is rated No. 5 at his position. Franks should do well with a strong receiving and running corps.
The Volunteers come into this season after losing two key defensive players, DE Derek Barnett and CB Cameron Sutton. They also lose QB Joshua Dobbs, although they have two promising quarterbacks vying for the spot.
Four-star recruit Jarrett Guarantano will battle Quinten Dormady, a junior backup who has completed 24 of his 39 total passes. The Vols add five-star OT Trey Smith, as well as four-star RB Ty Chandler to bolster the offense.
4. South Carolina
USC returns 16 starters, including sophomore QB Jake Bentley, who impressed Gamecocks fans last season with 1,420 yards and a 65.8% completion rate.
South Carolina is picking up plenty of talent on both sides of the football, but the most important aspect of their recruiting is the offensive line.
The Gamecocks gave up 41 sacks last year, but they performed much better than in 2015, where their record was 3-9.
Muschamp was able to turn around the program to a bowl run in one year, so we’ll see how much he can turn them around after two seasons.
The most important thing for the Wildcats this season is improving their defense. They only racked up 21 sacks last season, and allowed 228.2 rushing yards a game.
However, Kentucky’s offense should be impressive, as they return both QB Stephen Johnson and RB Benny Snell, who ran for 1,091 yards last season.
The SEC is such a tough conference to compete in, and the Wildcats will struggle to hold their own against much better opponents.
The Commodores aren’t looking bad for the 2017 season. Despite losing linebacker Zach Cunningham to the NFL, Vandy returns RB Ralph Webb, who rushed for 1,283 yards last season, as well as most of the offense. If QB Kyle Shurmur performs with his considerable offensive depth, the Commodores will make it to a bowl game again.
Mizzouri isn’t looking great for the 2017 season. After a 4-8 2016 season, they lost almost all of its defensive starters, only returning three players, and this after last season when they gave up 31.5 points per game.
The offense returns 10 players headed by QB Drew Lock, who had 3,339 passing yards with 23 touchdowns last season.