Troy Williams acknowledged it has been painful.

The methodical walk to midfield, hand-in-hand with other team captains, greeting opponents each week before kickoff, only to have to make a similar slow walk back. Instead of a helmet, a headset. Instead of warmup throws, analyzing defenses from the sideline.

Even at his most frustrated point, though, he can’t argue with winning. And No. 20 Utah enters this week 4-0, a nationally ranked program once again, with Pac-12 challenger Stanford in town Saturday evening.

“Being able to win these games have knocked it out a lot, so it hasn’t been too bad,” Williams said this week. “Personally, took a little hit, but I’ll be all right.”

Williams, personified.

Like after an untracked blitz up the middle and the ensuing smack, the Utah senior quarterback bounces back.

This was a different kind of hurt. Life in Utah was the last clean slate, a fresh start, a personal ignition. He was voted a team captain, won the starting quarterback job and went on to help the Utes win nine games, including another bowl game, after arriving on campus in 2016.

He was told he lost the job he thought was his 10 days before the season-opener against North Dakota, a few days after being voted team captain once more. Instead, it was Tyler Huntley. He sought change when things soured during his first stint as a starting Pac-12 quarterback.

This time around, Williams said he was too invested in the program and his teammates and he knew, at some point along the line, they’d need him.

“He’s never ran from a fight in his life,” said Tim Kaub, Williams’ offensive coordinator in high school and at Santa Monica College, “and he wasn’t about to do so here.”

‘Now it’s his time to shine’

Darren Carrington dialed Williams, then texted him. As the former Oregon wideout attempted to figure out his next step after being dismissed from the Ducks program this summer, he reached out to the quarterback he starred with in 7-on-7 camps back in southern California.

If he came to Utah, Carrington recalled, everything would click, just like they had when they were paired up randomly in those offensive camps so long ago. But Williams wasn’t the starting QB. The job was Huntley’s, so the sophomore and senior transfer teamed up to be one of the top duos in college football the first three weeks of the season.

“[Troy] took it on the chin, never stopped working,” Carrington said, “and now it’s his time to shine.”

TROY WILLIAMS TIMELINE

June 2012 • Williams, a four-star recruit at Narbonne High (Calif.), commits to Washington.

February 2013 • Williams officially signs with UW, becoming Steve Sarkisian’s third four-star QB in two years.

December 2013 • Sarkisian is hired by USC; Chris Petersen is hired to replace him at UW.

October 2014 • Williams makes his first and only start as a Huskie, a 24-10 loss to Arizona State.

January 2015 • Williams transfers from Washington, announces his intention to play for Santa Monica (Calif.) College.

December 2015 • Williams signs with Utah, joins program in January to play in spring ball.

August 2016 • Williams wins starting QB job and is voted team captain at Utah.

August 2017 • Williams voted team captain at Utah but is supplanted as team’s starting QB by sophomore Tyler Huntley.

September 2017 • Helped lead Utah to a 30-24 win at Arizona on Sept. 22 after starter Tyler Huntley suffered an apparent shoulder injury.

The first person Williams called that day he was told he wasn’t the starter was his mother, Kim. Then he spoke to his dad, Troy Sr. His parents told him that he could feel gutted by the decision but pointed out it shouldn’t let it change him or allow anger to stew. He was apprehensive at first to even inform his parents. He felt like he let his family down.

“It’s human to be a little disappointed and have your moments where you can’t be down for too long because it’ll affect you in the long run,” Williams said, “so you give yourself a couple moments, a day, whatever it may be and then you get back to work.”

Williams stood confidently in front of a media scrum the day Utah and new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor announced their plan to start Huntley, the dynamic sophomore.

“I just got to be ready when my name is called,” he said.

That time, it appears, has come.

Williams was summoned two weeks ago, just four games into the season, on a hot night in the Arizona desert.

When Huntley was tackled to the ground, it immediately was clear something wasn’t right. The dynamic quarterback rolled over and tried to grab at his right shoulder. In pain, he slowly walked off the turf inside Arizona Stadium.

“We have two starting quarterbacks, if you really ask me,” Carrington said.

Making the most of time left

The sword, Kaub said, was taken out of Williams’ right hand. That is the sting that Williams never will stop feeling. Williams played much of last season on a sprained MCL in his knee. Kaub is quick to remind those who may have forgotten that until last week, the only quarterback to orchestrate a win against Sam Darnold and USC was Williams and Utah.

“I felt like Troy had done enough to earn the right to lose the job on the field,” Kaub said.

Gifford Lindheim, who coached Williams at Santa Monica College after transferring from the University of Washington, agreed.

“You replace him and that raises eyebrows all the way around,” he said. “I think that anybody who knows Troy, anybody who‘s been a teammate of Troy, anybody who’s coached Troy understands this guy isn’t just a regular guy and regular quarterback. This guy is a winner.”

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Troy Williams (3) celebrates Utah Utes tight end Evan Moeai's (18) touchdown. University of Washington Huskies defeated University of Utah Utes 31-24 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, October 29, 2016.
Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Troy Williams (3) celebrates Utah Utes tight end Evan Moeai's (18) touchdown. University of Washington Huskies defeated University of Utah Utes 31-24 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, October 29, 2016.

Manuel Douglas, Williams’ high school coach at Narbonne High in Harbor City, Calif., was angered, telling The L.A. Times that Utah recruiters would be met with skepticism the next time they came around to look at a prospect.

Finding himself somewhat in flux isn’t new to Williams.

Williams left Washington on fractured terms in 2014, moving on from a program where he didn’t feel like he was wanted or shown respect. The clock is against him, with little more than three months left in college career.

“I don’t really think that’s your mindset going into the season to be a backup, but it helped me be a pro, just accepting your role and trying to be patient and be ready when your name is called,” Williams said. “I feel like that’s what it’s all about.”

Sticking around

“Nope,” Williams said bluntly.

He never thought about leaving or pursuing starting options elsewhere after learning Huntley would be QB1. The “C” on his chest represents too much, he said. He’s adapted to lead in ways not all team captains must. Before Huntley’s injury, Williams was reading coverages all over the field, whispering opponents’ tendencies to the young Utah quarterback.

“I’ve been here, they accepted me here when I first got here, so I just have to continue to be a good teammate and good captain and be a leader and continue to support my teammates,” Williams said.

“It wouldn’t be right if I just up and leave after a tough situation,” he added.

“The one thing that was never in doubt,” Kaub said, “the kid wasn’t going to walk.”

Uncertainty clouds the final three months of his college football career. Odds are Williams will return to the sidelines if and when Huntley returns from his unspecified injury. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said this week “everything is up in the air” when asked about the starting quarterback position.

“If Troy’s the guy, great,” Whittingham said. “We’re not really overly concerned because we know whoever the guys is is going to get it done.”

Williams was pressed continually this week if he already knew he would start and when exactly he found out. “I have no idea,” he repeated. Facing Stanford, even if it’s just one start, is an opportunity to prove that the decision — like he said in late August — didn’t break him.

“I feel like the situation that I’m in was put upon me for a reason,” he said.

What reason exactly might show itself Saturday night against the Cardinal.