The last senior through the inflatable tunnel, the last name announced over the PA system in Rice-Eccles Stadium, was the final senior team captain introduced to the adoring crowd.
As Troy Williams emerged, flanked by family members overcome with emotion, the senior quarterback had a wide smile posted across his face. Surrounding him was an estimated 13 family members, including his mom, dad, sister, grandfather, aunt, a pair of uncles, and many others.
“We had the whole crew out tonight,” Williams said, a football tucked firmly into his right arm.
Waiting for him a few minutes before kickoff was Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. By the time Williams strode to meet his head coach, the fans inside the stadium roared what sounded like their loudest roar of the pre-game ceremony.
The moment was his.
The night would be, too.
Maybe that’s why Williams couldn’t stop grinning.
Maybe that’s why during pregame warm-ups nearly two hours earlier, Williams stood alone in the south end zone below the field goal posts dancing by himself with his chrome gold headphones on. It’s because he knew with sophomore starter Tyler Huntley out with an injury, it boiled down to one more night in red.
In Utah’s 34-13 win over Colorado, Williams was 15-of-24 for 181 yards and rushed for two touchdowns.
“With Troy, it doesn’t matter what’s going on,” said longtime friend and wide receiver Darren Carrington II. “Whenever his number’s called, you just know you’re going to get the best out of him.”
Just over three months after Williams lost the starting quarterback job he thought was his, the senior’s last act was this: To make certain the only finality of Saturday evening was the 22 seniors would walk back to the locker room, beyond the MUSS, below the Utah marching band, one last time, but with one game left to prepare for.
Troy Williams got the Utes to December.
“Never sulked, never pouted, work ethic never dropped off, his preparation never dropped off,” Whittingham said of Williams. “He was prepared every single week. It’s a credit to who he is as a person.”
Three months after Williams had to face the local media and come to grips that his last year of college football would be primarily in a headset, after he proclaimed he was unbreakable no matter what situation came his way, there he was against Colorado, high-stepping untouched into the same end zone where an hour earlier he danced solo.
“When I got the news [in August],” Williams explained, “I was just trying to be the best teammate I could be and support Tyler and be ready when my name was called. That was just my whole goal for the season. Just be ready. That’s what I did.”
His is a collegiate career replete with its share of twists and turns, going from a highly-recruited quarterback out of Southern California to a starter at the University of Washington and then back home to California for junior college in hopes of finding another path to the Pac-12, which he eventually did at Utah. Which made Saturday evening’s events bleed with irony.
Asked if this was one of the most trying seasons in his young career, Williams’ smile stayed.
“Yeah, one of them,” he said. “College hasn’t really been what I expected, but I’m glad I’ve been through it all. It made me stronger, a lot smarter and made me a lot more appreciative of what I have today.”
On Saturday night, there was Williams, the senior team captain quarterback — the first of that designation since Brian Johnson — called upon to lead the Utes to a win and into a bowl game.
“There’s nobody more prepared for adversity than Troy,” said Gifford Lindheim, Williams’ head coach at Santa Monica College, this fall.
In likely his final start at Utah, Williams rose with a season on the line. Assuming Huntley returns to a full bill of health in time for the bowl game, Williams will leave Utah with a 10-6 record as a starter, having a direct hand in back-to-back bowl appearances and some memorable victories over some of the Pac-12’s biggest programs.
If Saturday was, in fact, the last chapter for Williams, he did what he’s known to do. He barreled through the tough times and made himself available for one last game. The bowl game appearance, he quipped postgame, is a perk for seniors because they get their own hotel rooms. He’s looking forward to the bowl game swag, gift cards and everything that encompasses playing football in late December.
“I’m grateful to be out here on this night, regardless of how the whole season played out,” Williams said before taking the long, last walk to the south end zone locker room. “I’m blessed to be in the position that I’m in and go to school here.”