Feb. 26, 2013
Jackie LaPenta, Texas Media Relations
The state of Texas has always been prideful of its football talent and the University of Texas' standards remain correspondingly high. When running back Ricky Williams arrived in Austin in 1995 from San Diego, Calif., he was able to elevate even the Texas standard of play.
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame recognized Williams' legacy by inducting the 1998 Heisman Trophy recipient into its 2012 class at a ceremony at the hall in Waco, Texas, on February 18.
"Coming from California I never thought I'd be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame," Williams said. "It just goes to show I appreciated playing here, and I guess people appreciated me being here, too.
"Coach Brown was the first person I heard from [when I learned of the induction]. I owe so much to him for the support he gave me and him convincing me to come back for my senior year and win the Heisman. Otherwise, I don't think I'd be here right now."
"Ricky is so deserving," said Mack Brown, who was inducted last year as a member of the 2011 class. "It's such an honor now to get in because you look at the people that are in. I think Ricky Williams fits right in the middle of that class and is a guy that has given us thrills in this state. Regardless of where he's from, he needs to be in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in my estimation."
When Williams ran the football, he delivered a level of aggressiveness and agility that had the makings of a star written all over it. His humility as a team player and the grit he showed on the practice field were unmatched and those qualities led to him becoming that superstar.
He finished his intercollegiate football career by posting 21 NCAA records and 46 University of Texas all-time marks. He left Texas holding NCAA records for career rushing yards (6,279), all-purpose yards (7,206), rushing TDs (72), and total TDs (75). Williams also claimed back-to-back NCAA rushing titles as a junior and senior.
The Heisman winner was also named the Maxwell Award winner, Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year and the Associated Press Player of the Year in 1998. Additionally, he is the first-ever, two-time Doak Walker Award recipient (1997-1998); the prize awarded annually to the nation's best running back.
"Texas was on the verge of getting back to that Texas tradition of old, and he was one of those transcendent players that started [Texas] back on that locomotive that it is today," former Texas teammate Kwame Cavil said.
Football and stardom never consumed Williams - he remained a modest team player and was infatuated with his education and other facets of life even in the midst of his Heisman hunt.
"It seems like today's superstars say, `It's all about me,' but Ricky knew that football is a team sport," Cavil said. "We knew [the Heisman] year was about Rick, but he knew that it was about us. He told the story himself. For him to come back [his senior year] showed he felt good about the team that was coming back. That spoke volumes."
Williams backfield mate and lead blocker, Ricky Brown, remembered Williams' gratitude and demeanor on the field.
"When we were playing, Ricky would always come to the sideline and say, `Hey man, thank you, thank you, thank you,'" Brown recalled. "I would tell him you don't have to say thank you. It is my job just like it is your job to do what you can do."
After being selected fifth overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 1999 NFL Draft, Williams established himself as one of the NFL's premier running backs. He rushed for 3,129 yards and 16 TDs and accumulated 1,092 receiving yards on 132 receptions with a pair of TDs in 38 games (all starts) for the Saints.
Williams was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002 where he led the league in rushing yards (1,853) and earned Pro Bowl Honors including being named the Pro Bowl MVP that year. He played eight seasons for the Dolphins between 2002-2010 including a short stint in the CFL for the Toronto Argonauts in 2006. In his final season, Williams signed with Baltimore helping the Ravens advance to the AFC Championship Game in 2011.
Williams' durability helped him remain a viable asset on the field, even with the punishment a running back's body takes over a long career. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2009, becoming the seventh player in NFL history to do so in a season in which the player was 32 years or older at its start.
Williams is one of just 26 players in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards. He totaled 10,009 career rushing yards and 66 rushing TDs over his career. He also had 342 receptions for 2,606 receiving yards.
Williams' on-the-field contributions were not the sole part of his continuing legacy. He knew that his superstar status could be used to further his goals outside of football which involved helping others in any way he could.
He started the Ricky Williams Foundation in 1999 with a mission to be instrumental in the physical, mental, emotional and educational development of at-risk individuals from low social-economic communities. One of its main programs is "Ricky's Kids," a free after-school program at Sims Elementary in Austin, Texas.
"We started brainstorming and we figured out that there are a lot of kids that don't have anywhere to go after school, and if they do have care it is at a cost which strains a lot of people's finances," Williams said about the program in 2011. "So we thought let's see if we can offer a free, but also quality, after-school program where kids aren't just getting babysat, but they're getting taught about the world around them."
Williams is hoping to continue to expand the program to other schools and the stated goal of his foundation is to eventually reach over "one million children in the nation and become the standard for culturally conscious educational programs."
"The biggest thing is just how the kids care about each other. One of the things we talked about was really making it like a family," said Williams after a visit to the program two summers ago. "Just to watch them out there, picking each other up and supporting each other, and even when one kid gets down the other kids don't jump on top and make it worse. They really try to lift each other up, and to me that is incredible."
And for someone who has had his share of ups and downs, being uplifted is something Williams can relate to and embrace.
"Ricky is one of those guys that had his share of adversity in his life," Ricky Brown said. "Even with all the gifts that he had, there were a lot of things that he struggled with. A moment like this is great for commemorating what he's accomplished."
The 2012 Texas Sports Hall of Fame class also included former Longhorn softball player Cat Osterman, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, former Dallas Cowboys running back Walt Garrison, former Milwaukee Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews, former Lubbock Monterey High School baseball coach Bobby Moegle and former San Antonio area high school and NBA basketball champion Shaquille O'Neal.
Williams is the 16th inductee with ties to Texas football.
His family, teammates and members of the UT athletics staff supported Williams at the ceremony; including Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds, Women's Athletic Director Chris Plonsky, Recruiting Coordinator/Tight Ends coach Bruce Chambers, Assistant AD for Strength & Conditioning Jeff Madden and fellow Texas Sports Hall of Fame member, former Texas women's basketball coach Jody Conradt.
"He's the total package of intelligence and physicality and the fact that he was a team player . . .," remarked Chambers, who was Williams' running backs coach at Texas. "I'm like a proud parent."
"He put the time in, he put the work in. He's a good person, and words can't explain how deserving he is," Cavil said. "For me to be here and still attached to some of this legacy is a testament to his character and his humbleness for letting us bask in this glory."
The evening commenced at the TSHOF museum where the inductees met with the media and signed autographs for fans. Afterwards, they headed to the Ferrell Center on the Baylor University campus for a sold-out reception in their honor. Each player was presented their award and a highlight film of their career was displayed.
"I'm glad that my kids are here," Williams said. "They've all seen me play, but I don't think they ever really grasped who I was and what I did in college. So it's nice for them to be here and celebrate with me."
In addition to this award, Williams' accomplishments and character are perpetually enshrined with a bronze statue of his likeness that sits outside of the southwest corner of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, erected in the spring of 2012. His No. 34 jersey number is also retired and is displayed alongside other Texas Football greats in the north end zone of the stadium.
"To me, considering the ups and downs of my career and that I'm still being honored means that there's hope. There is hope for the weirdos out there somewhere," laughed Williams.