Ricky Williams came into the NFL with sky-high expectations. He was a two-time All-American running back at Texas. He was also a Heisman Trophy winner. Williams was also the centerpiece of the biggest NFL trades on draft day. The bar was set high for Williams, who carved out a good professional career with the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins as he was also fighting his toughest battle – social anxiety.
Ricky Williams’ college football career
Ricky Williams played four years at the University of Texas. He rushed for better than 1,000 yards in each season and finished his career with the Longhorns with 75 rushing touchdowns and 6,592 rushing yards. For his college career, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1998.
During his Heisman-winning year, Williams compiled 2,327 rushing yards and finished with 29 rushing touchdowns. He added 307 receiving yards and caught a touchdown pass. During a late-season game against rival Texas A&M, Williams broke Tony Dorsett‘s all-time record for rushing yards in a career for a Divison 1-A player (6,082).
Williams went into the game needing just 11 yards and wound up with 259. Williams also broke the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns in a career for a Division 1-A player of 73. He finished his career with 75. Williams was the AP Player of the Year in 1998 and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Williams’ time in the NFL
New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka traded his entire 1998 collection of draft picks and more to the Washington Redskins in order to move up in the draft and select Williams with the fifth overall pick. It was the first time in NFL history that only one player was selected by a team in the draft. Williams had three solid seasons with the Saints before he was traded to the Miami Dolphins before te 2002 season.
In his first year with the Dolphins, Williams made his only Pro Bowl. He led the league in rushing attempts with 383 and also led the league in rushing yards with 1,853. He rushed for 16 touchdowns and was named First-Team All-Pro. Two years after his big season, Williams abruptly retired from the league. He had tested positive twice for marijuana and he appeared very uncomfortable and shy, often conducting interviews with his helmet on.
In 2006, Williams was suspended for the entire season for his fourth failed test. He returned to the Dolphins in 2007, playing just one game. He played sparingly for the next two seasons before playing his final year with the Baltimore Ravens. It was later revealed Williams was struggling with social anxiety disorder and was using cannabis as a form of treatment.
Williams opens up about social anxiety disorder
In an article written by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Ricky Williams said he always felt unhappy and felt as if there was something wrong with him. “I was 23, a millionaire and had everything, yet I was never more unhappy in my life,” Williams said. “I felt extremely isolated from my friends and family because I couldn’t explain to them what I was feeling and I had no idea what was wrong with me.”
Williams always felt shy but said he was relieved when he was given his diagnosis. “After I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, I felt immense relief because it meant that there was a name for my suffering. I wasn’t crazy or weird, like I thought for so many years,” said Williams. “As part of my treatment program, my physician prescribed an antidepressant, in combination with therapy. Soon thereafter I was able to start acting like the real Ricky Williams.”
In a 2018 CNBC article, Williams said he has come a long way since his days as an unhappy, shy football player. “Obviously, I still have a long ways to go, but I feel like I’m doing a much better job than I was then,” he said.