For the first week after knee surgery, Tyler Williams’ goal in rehab was simply to straighten his leg.
He’d ice for 30 minutes, then work with Air Force athletic trainer Ernie Sedelmyer for 30 minutes simply to fully extend.
Then came more ice. Then the senior receiver would call it a day.
“You really don’t see much progress at the beginning, and it’s frustrating because you really don’t think you’re getting better,” Williams said. “But you are.”
At the end of the second week, he was able to make a full revolution on a stationary bike and do so without the knee popping.
“That’s when I thought maybe I’m on road to getting better here,” Williams said. “That was exciting.”
That was also only three weeks ago.
Williams had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 4 to remove cartilage that had slipped off the bone over the first few weeks of the season.
On Saturday, he is expected to return to action in an 8:15 p.m. game against Wyoming.
It was a dizzyingly fast recovery, but one that Williams never took for granted.
“When I first had the surgery there was no guarantee that I’d be back for the season, so I was in a pretty low place for about a week or two when I wasn’t sure what my future might look like,” he said. “As a senior, you know this is your last season.”
Williams had been bothered by injuries long before the surgery. He had an operation on his right rotator cuff following last season, at which point he was also suffering from a knee bruise that doctors said would only heal with about six months of inactivity. That wasn’t an option for Williams, so he went through his routine as usual – though not feeling like himself – until the surgery was finally required when the knee swelled up following a loss at New Mexico on Sept. 30.
It's not certain that the slot receiver with 82 career carries for 455 yards and seven touchdowns and nine catches for 148 yards will be called upon to provide a major on-field boost at this point. Junior Ronald Cleveland ranks third on the team in rushing yards and is averaging 10.3 yards per carry, so Cleveland figures to continue to receive most of the action at that spot.
But Williams could provide something else for a team coming off a 21-0 loss to Army – its first shutout loss in 25 years. After the game, players bemoaned a lack of energy, claiming the Black Knights “wanted it more.”
Well, Williams is having none of that. He has flirted with the possible end of his career. Now that he’s received a second chance, he doesn’t intend to take anything for granted. He missed practices, time in the hotel with the team and despised being relegated to watching road games from the couch at his sponsor parents’ home.
He wants others on the team to understand where he’s coming from, and see that the saying “every play could be your last” is more than a cliché.
“Just bringing urgency back to the guys, that’s what I’m going to try to do,” Williams said. “I’m giving it everything I’ve got these last few weeks. That’s what you’re going to see out of me.”