When Mack Brown took over as head football coach at the University of Texas this past season, he was faced with a dilemma. He did not like long hair. He had a policy forbidding it on every team he coached. But at Texas, he inherited a running back named Ricky Williams, who wore his hair in dreadlocks. What’s a coach to do? Mack Brown looked at the 6’1″, 230 pound Williams, watched him run and decided those dreadlocks weren’t so bad, after all. “I was thinking about wearing braids myself after about the fourth game,” Brown said. “Ricky is the best player I’ve ever seen. I think he’s one of the best, if not the best, college football player ever.” Williams, who is the 62nd recipient of the Maxwell Award as Collegiate Player of the Year, broke almost every offensive record on the books. He surpassed Tony Dorsett as college football’s all-time leading rusher with 6,279 yards. He also set new standards for rushing touchdowns (72), points scored (452), and all-purpose yards (7,206). Williams helped restore the luster to the Longhorn football program. The team was 4-7 in his junior year and that was one reason why he chose to stay in school rather than enter the 1998 NFL draft. He wanted to get the Longhorns back on their feet which he did this past season as they finished 9-3. Ricky WilliamsWilliams had 2,124 yards rushing as a senior, including a school-record 350 yards in one game against Iowa State. In his final regular season game, he had 259 yards on 44 carries in a hard-fought 26-24 win over Texas A&M.; “He’s like the Michael Jordon of college football,” A&M; safety Dante Hall said. “He can run around you, he can run over you, he can catch, kind of like Michael can shoot, dunk on you, anything.” When Texas rolled over Mississippi State in the Cotton Bowl, Williams ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns. CBS network analyst Bill Maas said: “That as good a job of running as I’ve ever seen, period. (Williams) is powerful when he needs to be powerful. He is fast when he needs to be fast and he has moves whenever he needs them.” Williams carried himself with equal grace off the field. He dedicated his senior year to Doak Walker, the former SMU All-America, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident in January, 1998, and died nine months later. Williams met Walker the previous year when he received the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top collegiate running back. The two men struck up a friendship that continued until Walker’s death. When Walker passed away, Williams put a sticker with Walker’s number 37 on the back of his helmet. The day Texas played Oklahoma, the annual rivalry staged in Dallas, Williams changed his uniform number from 34 to 37 to honor Walker’s memory. After leading the Longhorns to a 34-3 victory, Williams presented the game ball and his jersey to the Walker family in the locker room. “I knew I didn’t want to embarrass myself wearing Doak’s number,” Williams said. “When I looked down at the 37, I started to get emotional. Doak Walker was who I want to be.” “I can understand why Doak and Ricky hit it off,” said Skeeter Walker, Doak’s widow. “They’re both very humble, genuine and humble.” The Maxwell Football Club thanks Ray Didinger of NFL Films for contributing this article on Ricky Williams.
University of Texas