A couple of weeks after fracturing his neck in 2015, Clemson junior wide receiver Mike Williams started running again.
This is nothing like what the doctor ordered.
“I don’t think so,” Williams said of what he’d been told to do, “but I’m here today. I’m good.”
He’s far better than good. After missing all but a handful of plays last season, Williams has 84 receptions for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft in April.
But first, he wants to experience what was taken from him last season: a chance to play in the college football playoff system. That arrives Saturday when Clemson plays Ohio State in the second of two semifinals.
“I told the coaches I wanted a college-playoff football experience. This is my season for that,” Williams said Wednesday.
Williams was making a catch in the end zone against Wofford when his momentum crashed him head-first into a goal-post support. Serious as a neck fracture sounds, Williams says he never was in danger of not playing again.
“Ever since the day I got hurt the doctors told me I would play again, so that was never really an issue,” Williams said.
Still, there was anxiety when he started practicing in the spring. He came down hard on his back on a long reception and, as coach Dabo Swinney recalled, everyone skipped a breath.
“First day I went out to practice I fell hard and popped right back up, ready for the next play,” Williams said. “It’s not like I was shying away from contact or anything like that.”
Williams was asked Wednesday about running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, both projected first-round picks, skipping their teams’ bowl games in part to avoid the risk of injury. Williams said he respects their choices, but that’s a course he wouldn’t consider.
“I’m not going to sit out a game just because of the draft. I feel like playing in these games can help me” in draft status, Williams said.
“We’re playing for a national championship. But if I’d been playing in the same bowls they were, I’d have played.”
A secondary second to none
As good as Clemson’s receiving corps is, Ohio State’s defensive backs look just as impressive.
Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore are the kind of big, physical cornerbacks that allow the Buckeyes to play NFL-style press coverage. But the star of that unit is safety Malik Hooker, a first-time starter as a redshirt sophomore.
Hooker, who is 6-2 and 205 pounds, has returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season. He’s known for having exceptional closing speed on receivers, allowing the Buckeyes to be more aggressive with their coverages and blitzes.
How good is Hooker? Co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, frequently compares Hooker to former Baltimore Raven Ed Reed. That’s as good as it gets at the safety position.