Few players get the opportunity to come into a Division I football program and make an impact as a true freshman, but Clemson coaches knew what they were getting when they recruited Mike Williams.
The wide receiver was ranked among the top 3 players in the state of South Carolina before enrolling at Clemson, and he went on to start three games in his first season. He recorded 20 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns, earning him a more solidified starting role for the 2014 season.
In his sophomore season, Williams landed himself on some impressive lists after having a team-high of 1,030 yards on 57 receptions. He brought in six scores that season and became first in school history in receiving yards by a sophomore, which landed him seventh on the list for total receiving yards. The Second-Team All-ACC wideout also ended the season as fourth in the ACC in receiving yards per game at 79.2.
The 2015 season looked to be a promising one for Williams. Clemson’s offense gained a lot of attention under quarterback Deshaun Watson, and the receiving corps was strong. Williams would have the chance to prove himself to NFL scouts in his junior season and could have potentially made a strong case for leaving early if he continued the level of success he had been displaying so far in his college career.
When Clemson hosted Wofford for the opening game of the 2015 season, the Tigers were steadily driving down the field on their first possession. Williams made a 16-yard catch for a first down at the 18-yard line. A few plays later, with Clemson within five yards of the end zone, Williams was in position to score the first touchdown of the season.
Next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground next to the goal post he had just collided with during a four-yard touchdown reception. Cheers from the score halted immediately when he didn’t get up. Silence took over the usually deafening Memorial Stadium when the video board showed the play where Williams fractured part of his vertebra in his neck.
Some questioned if everything the receiver had worked so hard for would all be over. However, what mattered was Williams never did. As he laid there with trainers attending to him, Williams wanted to get up. While he was being carted off the field, Williams just wanted to get back on the field to help his teammates secure the win.
He felt that way as he watched his team finish undefeated in the regular season, but what hurt him was knowing he could have made a difference in Clemson’s first shot at a National Championship since 1981. The pain of not being able to help his team served as a motivating factor to seek revenge on the coming season. He wanted to make up for lost time, and he wanted to bring a national title to his home state.
“I wanted to be out there to help my teammates last year, but unfortunately I couldn’t,” Williams said. “I just told the coaches that we have an opportunity, if I have an opportunity to come out and play at Clemson, again, I want to get back to the National Championship and win it.”
While wearing a neck brace for almost the entirety of the 2015 season, Williams did what he could to make sure he would not have a setback. When he was cleared to practice in the spring, Williams went to work. He still was not allowed to be tackled as a precaution, but when he checked in for fall camp in August, the 6-foot-4 receiver was just over 220 pounds.
“Mike Williams is a monster. I mean, he’s a game-changer,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “If he lines up on the field, he impacts the game because I promise you the D coordinator is hoping that it doesn’t go number 7’s way.”
The work Williams put in during his time away was evident in the way he played in Clemson’s national championship winning season. He ended what would be his final season as a Tiger as the team’s reception leader with 98 for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was just the fourth Clemson receiver in history to have at least 10 scores in a season. He played a critical role in the college football playoffs, especially in Clemson’s 35-31 victory over Alabama in the National Championship Game. Williams certainly made up for missing the previous season’s title game by catching eight passes for 94 yards and scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown. He will also always be remembered as a key reason Clemson had success on the final two drives of the game.
In his career, Williams racked up 2,727 yards on 177 receptions for 21 touchdowns. He joined former Clemson greats Rod Gardner and Sammy Watkins as the only wide receivers in school history to have at least two 1,000-yard seasons in their career.
“It’s an honor to be named with those group of guys,” Williams said after hitting his second 1,000-yard mark at Wake Forest. “It’s all hard work, and my teammates, too, play a part in that. So, it’s a good accomplishment.”
Although he still had a year of eligibility remaining due to his injury, Williams checked off everything he wanted to accomplish at Clemson University. He earned accolades that placed him among some of the best players in school history such as finishing third in Clemson history in receiving touchdowns and fourth in receiving yards. He played a major role in Clemson winning its first national championship in 35 years, and he earned a degree in Sociology in December of 2016.
Now, Williams will get to pursue one of his life-long dreams of playing in the NFL. He was one of nine Clemson players invited to compete in the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine next week (Feb. 28-March 6) in Indianapolis, Ind.
“He has had a great year for us and he has a great future ahead of him,” co-offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach Jeff Scott said. “I’m very proud of him and very happy for everything that he has been able to accomplish because he has earned it. Nobody has given him anything. He had to go earn everything that he’s got.”
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