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Ricky Williams Set for Heisman 25th Anniversary Salute

Texas Football Coach Steve Sarkisian regularly dons an antique style, blockword Texas sweatshirt during his media availabilities, and this week may have been the most fitting time for that fashion style. It just so happens that this weekend, the Longhorns will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ricky Williams’ Heisman Trophy-winning season with a first quarter on-field recognition of its legendary running back. Williams will also be honored Friday with a prestigious Texas Exes Distinguished Alumnus Award and recognized for that distinction during halftime of Saturday’s game.

“What a tremendous honor that is for a football player to receive,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “And then Saturday, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his memorable Heisman Trophy season, I’m really looking forward to that, too.

“His ability to run the football is one that I always admired from afar. A lot of why the running back position is so important to our program systematically speaks volumes to how important Ricky was to the team here, and his ability to run the ball the way he did.”

A guest of Coach Sarkisian on this week’s “Longhorn Weekly with Coach Sark” recorded live from the west campus location of Pluckers, Williams could hardly believe so much time had passed.

“When you said 25 years, I was thinking 25 years ago I was sitting in my apartment ordering Pluckers,” Williams said with a laugh. “It was part of my weekly ritual during my senior football season, every Thursday night.”

When Williams was a landslide winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1998, he became just the second Longhorn in history to do so, joining Earl Campbell, who lifted the Heisman in 1977, the year Williams was born. He also won the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year, and Doak Walker Award for the second straight time, among many other accolades. Williams finished his career as the NCAA all-time leading rusher with 6,279 yards, while setting 21 NCAA and 46 school records in his four years on the Forty Acres. He was also a two-time consensus All-American, two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, and he’s a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and Texas Athletics Hall of Honor. In 2020, Williams and Campbell were honored when the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was dedicated to them, Campbell-Williams Field.

Projected to be a top NFL draft pick after his junior campaign in 1997, Williams shocked the college football world and thrilled Longhorn Nation by returning for his senior season to finish what he started.

“It’s true that football is the ultimate team sport, but for me I knew that I led the nation in rushing and scoring and didn’t even get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony because we were 4-7,” Williams said. “So I knew I was putting all my eggs in one basket coming back for my senior year and I knew that the team had to show up.”

The team did just that, and Williams, in Mack Brown’s first year at the helm, led Texas to a 9-3 record and Cotton Bowl victory. The Longhorns finished the season ranked 15th nationally and the City of Austin celebrated that team and pay tribute to Williams’ Heisman-winning season with a parade in their honor.

Williams’ goal all along, he said Wednesday, was to put Texas Football back on the map. Explaining why he came to Texas, Williams breezed through his first two reasons — the opportunity to play as a freshman and play games on national TV — to arrive at his main answer.

“The program had to be rich in tradition and on the verge of greatness again — getting back on top,” Williams explained. “I wanted to be part of that mission. This didn’t necessarily occur during my four years, but I know all the recruits, all the talent, all the attention that our team was able to generate really helped.”

The team’s success and Brown’s coaching, Williams added, “catapulted Texas back on top.”

Williams was drafted fifth overall in 1999 by the New Orleans Saints, and went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL. He led the NFL in rushing in a season, was an All-Pro, came up just short of a Super Bowl appearance with the Baltimore Ravens, and finished his career one of 31 players in NFL history to rush for 10,000 yards. But being recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus came from more than just his on-field success.

The award recognizes alumni who have “made significant achievements in their careers and service to the university,” and much of that, for Williams, came once he was done playing.

“The award means a lot,” Williams said. “It means that I graduated. If I’m being honest, when I came to Texas, I said what I was supposed to say; even when I gave my speech about coming back my senior year, I talked about graduating. But because I played minor league baseball and missed some semesters of school, I was far, far away from graduating. So, after I retired from the Ravens, I recommitted to getting back to school. It kind of sounded like a good idea, but took a lot of work.”

Williams said he had about 70 hours of credit to make up. But that didn’t stop him.

“I committed to it, and I loved every minute of it,” Williams explained. “I didn’t realize how much of a student I was. I didn’t realize how much of a wonderful opportunity it is to attend a university where you have access to so many brilliant minds.”

“I look at the things that I’m doing right now that give me fulfillment, and it’s 99% based off things I learned when I went back to school to get my degree. It makes me so grateful that I chose to attend The University of Texas — not just for the football, but for the educational stuff.”

Prior to returning to Texas in 2015 to finish his bachelor’s degree, Williams spent two years serving as the running backs coach at the University of Incarnate Word. He also served as an analyst on Longhorn Network’s GameDay show for several years, and completed his degree in educational psychology in 2017.

“The way I live my life is I want to experience as much as possible,” Williams said. “That’s how you truly know what’s gonna work. I wanted to get into coaching, and so I went all in. I loved it.

“I had these fantasies of becoming a head coach, and that actually sent me back to school, because I needed to get my degree if I wanted to coach at the collegiate level. And then I fell in love with school and went in a different direction.”

Williams, who is now a wellness expert and entrepreneur, co-founder of Real Wellness Herbal, a licensed astrologer and CEO of LILA Astrology, spokesman, podcaster and involved in numerous business ventures. Needless to say, he’s always learning, growing and taking on new challenges just as he did on the football field and in school.

During college, Williams played four seasons of minor league baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system, who drafted him out of high school and paid for his scholarship to college.

“It was great because I got to miss the grueling summer workouts,” Williams joked of playing baseball while a Longhorn. “I heard guys tell stories, and I was like ‘no thank you.’ It also kept me in that state of a kid because when I was a kid, I’d just go right into the next season, so I got to keep that change.”

As Williams signed off from his interview on Wednesday, the former NCAA career rushing yards and all-purpose yards leader said farewell to Sarkisian.

“Ricky, can’t wait to see you Saturday, man,” Sarkisian said. “I know the team’s going to be fired up to see you.”

“Great job, Sark,” Williams responded. “I love it. I love what you’re doing.”

Source : Texas Sport