With college football camps about to open, and quarterback battles about to rage in some of them — at BYU, for instance — nobody’s more fully informed on this business than Troy Williams.
He has seen the highs of great opportunity, of running the show, and the lows of the lack of it, of standing on the sideline, rooting for the success of his replacement.
The former Utah starter was rather surprisingly relegated by coaches to backup status just prior to last season, his senior year, after he already had played in 13 games and thrown for 2,757 yards for the Utes the previous season and been freshly named a team captain. And yet, he took on the role in support of Tyler Huntley in a manner that was admirable by any standard.
He wanted to start in the worst way.
Not getting the chance challenged and then demonstrated to him, from the inside out, the vast parameters of his character, his team spirit, his willingness to care more about the success of the whole and less about his individual accomplishments. He shoved the negativity that might have poisoned him out of his mind, concentrating instead on more positive stances.
Now, looking back, his college days gone, he’s glad he kept that good attitude, despite the personal difficulty of putting in thousands of hours of study and work, laying so many of his dreams on the line, and then watching a less-experienced teammate take the wheel of an offense he considered his own.
The mixture of dropping a step back, but staying ready if he was needed, getting completely prepared for games with uncertainty as to whether he would play hanging on one shoulder and doubts about his coaches’ confidence in him hanging on the other, was a major test.
Ultimately, though, Williams made the decision that, after all he had been through, having gone to Washington, having retreated to a JC, coming to Utah, earning the starting spot, and then losing it, he would betray neither himself, nor his team, when Huntley got the nod.
“The main thing I learned is to keep pushing, no matter what,” he says. “Whether you’re on top of the world, or trying to get out of the mud.”
That mud was every bit as thick and splattered and messy as he figured it would be when he was first told Huntley had the job.
“It was a little bit more challenging for myself,” he says. “But the coaching staff expected me to be the guy I was. I had to continue to be that person. I couldn’t switch up and change on everybody. That wouldn’t be fair to my teammates. The best way to go about that situation was to support Tyler, learn from the situation and try to stay positive about everything I was doing.”
So he did. He was.
Asked if he thought about transferring, saving what was left of his college eligibility for more time on the field and to better prove himself to pro scouts, he says that was never seriously considered.
“[Sitting] didn’t help me in getting to the next level,” says Williams, who was invited to a couple of NFL rookie minicamps, and now might join the Utah franchise in the new pro league, the Alliance of American Football. “The guys [at Utah] were good to me when I first got there. And it was only right for me to show them the same respect. Just because things don’t go my way doesn’t mean I needed to pack up and quit.”
He held firm with the Utes, focusing on helping Huntley any way he could, and playing mind games with himself, preparing for whatever opportunity would come, “just trying to stay positive.”
As for Huntley, and the way Williams viewed him, he says: “It was a great opportunity for Tyler to learn, to get experience and be ready for this year.”
Week after week, Williams stood in the background, soldiering on, not allowing his emotions to sag.
“It hurt, for sure,” he says. “Just the type of competitor I am. I really wasn’t expecting for that to happen. It was just another lesson for me to learn. It was real hard, taking that step down, trying to find new ways to contribute to the team, and be a leader, even though I wasn’t on the field. It helped me look at things with a different perspective.”
No longer was his pursuit an isolated, egocentric one. He was in the mix for the betterment of all. And that is a breakthrough, a realization, a journey some star athletes never find, never reach, never make.
Williams has advice for quarterbacks currently in the fight, competitors who see only dark alternatives around their bright, singular goal of starting:
“Stay ready because you never know what could happen. God forbid somebody gets hurt, but you never know, so stay positive. The more you think, ‘I’m not playing, I’m not getting the reps that I want, everybody’s watching at home and I’m not playing,’ that’s just going to make your situation worse. I would say, continue to work at your craft, so when your time comes, you go out there and show everybody what you can do. You may not get all the time that you want, but you’re going to get your chance to play. So, stay sharp and be ready for when your time comes.”
As for his now spent time at Utah, the highs and the lows, Williams reflects back on it with happiness and familiar positivity: “I had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people. Great fans, great atmosphere. I just try to take that look on life with me. Too often, we dwell on the negative things. I try to stay positive and live life to the fullest every day.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.