There was a feeling of helplessness this summer for some of Kentucky’s players.
It had nothing to do with football or the future.
It had to do with family.
Running back Boom Williams is like a brother to quarterback Drew Barker. They were roommates early in their careers at UK.
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Seeing Williams in pain, first physically after he fought back from offseason elbow surgery and then mentally and emotionally after the sudden death of his younger sister this summer, was difficult.
“I’ve been close with him for a while,” Barker said on Friday at Kentucky’s annual Media Day to open fall camp. “Seeing him go through that hard time, it hurt not only me but a lot of people, especially (him) losing a family member.”
For his part, Williams didn’t want to go into detail about the death of his younger sister, or the emotional toll it’s taken on him and those closest to him.
“I’m just moving forward every day,” the junior running back said. “It’s something hard you have to deal with. It’s kind of hard to forget.”
Williams did get a sliver of good news this week, though. After surgery to repair an elbow he injured twice last season, he was fully cleared for contact on Thursday.
“I’ll be ready to go for the first practice today, so it should be very fun to go out there and do all the things my teammates are doing,” said UK’s leading returning running back. “Just be able to go out there and practice and get back in a rhythm of the game.”
It’s the ebb and flow of football that will help the Monroe, Ga., native find a new normal after the death of his sister.
“With the help of my teammates and the staff, it’s been pretty easy for me starting camp,” Williams said. “I’ll be here doing ball and won’t be thinking about it as much. It’s definitely hard, but with the help of my teammates and school, starting camp, that will help a lot.”
Two of Williams’ coaches know firsthand what it’s like to lean on football after the loss of a family member.
This summer, Coach Mark Stoops talked about his own father passing while he was in college at Iowa.
“It was good to get right back into a routine and have a lot of people around you that support you and want to be there to help you,” Stoops said in late July. “You feel a certain amount (of stress) on yourself to not want to let the other guys down, too. Makes you kind of pick yourself up and get back to work. Very difficult.”
For Eddie Gran, it was the passing of his special-needs daughter while he was an assistant coach at Auburn.
“He’s going to lean on his teammates and his family right now,” the offensive coordinator said on Friday. “That’s a tough deal that he went through. You can’t even imagine unless it happens to you.
“He’s going through a lot, but like we talked about, you have to move on and he’s done that. He’s been unbelievable.”
In many ways, missing football this spring and having to watch the Blue-White game from the sideline reminded Williams how much he loved football and what the game means to him.
“Him having that elbow this spring, I could tell he was over there chomping at the bit,” Barker said of Williams. “So I’m really excited for him to get back out there this camp.”
The goal moving forward for Williams, who led the Cats in rushing last season with 121 carries for 855 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games, is to stay healthy.
The 5-foot-9, 196-pound running back has been mentioned among the elite rushers in the Southeastern Conference and was tabbed Third Team by the media last month in Birmingham.
Williams, who averaged a school-best 7.1 yards per carry last season, also was named a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, which honors the nation’s top tailback.
If he can remain healthy, coaches are excited about how he can help Kentucky this season.
“He’s been super explosive,” Stoops said on Friday. “We’ve all seen that in this stadium. He’s shown flashes.”
But Williams will have to work extra hard at his conditioning and be able to handle more reps.
His extra work won’t end there. He’s still learning the nuances of the offense that was installed this spring while he watched from the sideline.
“He got spurts of it, but he didn’t get to be in the bullets,” said Gran, who coaches the running backs. “He’s got to make sure he understands and he can protect our quarterback when need be and that he can understand the run game and all that.”
And whether it takes some time or Williams finds his way back quickly, he’ll have his teammates to lean on.
“I feel like it’s really helped him a lot, having that big support staff and all of us being there for him,” Barker said of his friend. “I feel like he’s doing good now, and I really feel like he’s at home when he’s on the football field.”