University of Miami quarterback Ryan Williams came to Miami riding dreams of being the next Ken Dorsey — his childhood hero — and leading the program he loved for so long to another championship.
He got Dorsey’s No. 11, but his dream ultimately ended following a severe knee injury that cut short a promising senior season.
Williams, who will return to his birthplace when the Hurricanes meet South Carolina on Dec. 27 in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, will leave UM without ever having started a game.
“We thought this would be the greatest year of our lives but it turned out to be the toughest,” said Ryan’s father, Rich Williams. “I’ve worked hard to rekindle his spirit and let him know life is not over, his career is not over. This is just another chapter of his book.”
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Williams threw one incomplete pass this season against Cincinnati, his only game — “three or four snaps,” he said. His career UM numbers in 10 games over three seasons:
37 completions of 53 attempts for 456 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception.
“My heart does go out to him,” said UM offensive coordinator James Coley on Wednesday. “He’s worked really hard to get back and he finally got himself in form midway through the season. He’s a great kid. You love him, and you love what he stands for.”
Williams, 23, a Miramar High graduate from Pembroke Pines, tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee while rolling out April 5 during a spring scrimmage. He already had been deemed the 2014 starter, as high school senior Brad Kaaya had not yet arrived in Coral Gables and Kevin Olsen, who left the team in September, had never played a snap and wasn’t close to Williams in maturity, mastery of the playbook and level of performance.
But Kaaya earned the job over fifth-year transfer Jake Heaps, throwing for a UM freshman record 2,962 yards — the fourth most by a freshman in Atlantic Coast Conference history — and soaring on his way to becoming the ACC Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, the 6-6, 222-pound No. 11 with the strawberry-blonde beard, serious eyes, and calm — almost soothing — demeanor, helped tutor and support his young quarterback while he worked excruciatingly hard to rehabilitate his knee and get back on the field. Williams never complained, but he doubts he’ll play in the bowl game.
“It’s been tough not playing,” said Williams, who was cleared to play early in the season.
In hindsight, would he have transferred to UM from Memphis after his freshman season, in which he threw for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions but had a coach that was about to change the offense?
“Who wouldn’t come to Miami?” he said. “I grew up wanting to play at Miami, wanting to be part of the ‘U.’ I got my chance. It didn’t go the way I planned it or wanted it to go, but I still enjoyed my time here.”
Said former Miramar High teammate and close friend Tracy Howard, a UM cornerback: “He could have easily been selfish and not tried to help Brad. But he put his ego to the side. He put his pride to the side.”
Williams, married to Deanna and the father of 4-month-old son Roman, has been invited to play in the Medal of Honor Bowl at the Citadel on Jan. 10 in Charleston, South Carolina. He views the game as “my whole senior year.”
“It’s really my first chance to go out and show people what I’m capable of doing and how much better I’ve gotten over the years,” said Williams, who plans to train for a chance to earn a spot in an NFL camp.
Deanna described the year as “bittersweet,” but said her husband was “always there for his teammates. He doesn’t speak badly about others. I love that about him.”
In the wake of a 6-6 regular season, Rich Williams, from New Orleans, believes “there were times Ryan could have given his team a spark along the way,” but has accepted what he can’t change.
Rich Williams said he’ll leave Christmas eve and drive to Louisiana to visit family, before heading to Shreveport while Deanna, Roman, and Ryan’s mom stay behind and watch on TV. For Rich, Louisiana brings back only good memories.
“Ryan made his first Mardis Gras in the back of one of my delivery trucks on a bale of hay on the parade route when he was 2 months old,” he said.
Now, 23 years later, the elder Williams is hoping for one more celebration in Shreveport.
“If he got a chance to play it would be so awesome,” Rich Williams said. “I know in his heart he wants to get on that field.”