Ricky Williams has always worn a lot of hats.
He wore a baseball cap as a minor-leaguer in the Phillies’ farm system.
He wore a football helmet forever, sometimes even in sessions with the press when he was making more than a fashion statement.
He wore the label of rebel and a character and a paradox, and admits he was coddled and sheltered at Texas.
He wore the tag of two-time All-American and the nation’s leading rusher and owner of 46 records at Texas and 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, and, yes, I voted for him.
He wore the reputation of a football great, but also of a free-speaking free spirit in search of answers.
He’s worn headsets in his role of sports analyst on the Longhorn Network and a whistle as a running backs coach at Incarnate Word.
On Friday, he donned another label when he was announced as an inductee into the prestigious National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. It’s an illustrious, 15-player, two-coach class that includes other greats like Kansas State’s coaching legend Bill Snyder, Texas Tech tackling machine Zach Thomas and another maverick like himself in Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth.
“Sometimes when you’re young,” said the Boz, who always defied convention and once wore a T-shirt at the Orange Bowl that castigated the NCAA, “you make unwise choices.”
At 37, Williams doesn’t hide from any of his.
If Williams made any, he faces them head-on and lives his life without regret, but with promise and potential and purpose. He’s always been a personal favorite because of his candor and flare, his individualism and his rugged play. He doesn’t worry about his health and said, “If I get dementia, I’ll tell my kids to tell me I just forgot my medicine.”
Still, he could have done without that 2002 collision with Ray Lewis, the biggest hit he ever suffered, after catching a screen pass. “I didn’t know where I was anymore,” he recalled. “I started walking toward their sideline.”
He calls his induction a thrill and remembers visiting the Hall of Fame in South Bend on Texas’ game trip to Notre Dame before the building moved to Atlanta. There, he witnessed Darrell Royal’s impact on the game. “He had a whole room there,” Williams gushed.
After leaving college in the winter of 1998 after the Cotton Bowl with 60 hours toward his degree — he missed school in spring and summers because of minor-league baseball — he’s embarking on the second half of his life as a husband and father of three with a deep appreciation for education.
He’s about three semesters shy of his undergraduate degree and plans to work toward a Ph. D in social psychology and a career in consulting. For whom? “With whoever needs consulting,” Ricky said as only Ricky can.
He’d love to delve into the socialization of athletes, especially in their younger, more formative years. As he put it, “I’m pretty much an expert on the subject.”
But he’s well-versed in a number of topics.
Like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which he believes he’ll never join even though he’s one of just 26 NFL players to rush for more than 10,000 career yards. “I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to be in there,” he said. “It’d be a great honor, but I don’t think its gonna happen.
“Would I have gotten in if I hadn’t retired? For sure. If I had not retired and I stayed healthy, but I have no regrets because I am healthy, and you could say yeah, there’s your bust, but the shelf life of a player is one generation. The next generation doesn’t know you. But I’m healthy, and that’ll last longer.”
Like concussions. By his guesstimate, he had “about four in college and eight or nine in the NFL,” none of them ever diagnosed because he never did tell anyone so he could stay in the game. He even blacked out a couple of times during his time with the Ravens.
Like Charlie Strong. He’s a firm believer in the Texas coach and goes so far as to compare him to Alabama’s Nick Saban. “I think Charlie has the potential to be up there with Nick,” he said. “If Charlie gets hot here, I don’t see anything stopping him. I could see him in Final Four in four years for sure.”
Like Strong’s core values. “I like the core values. I could have (played for Strong), and I think I would have had a lot of success. I wouldn’t steal. I respect women. Now I would have had a couple of drinks after the game, but I didn’t smoke (marijuana) in college.”
“No way,” he insisted. “I didn’t smoke in college. It’s the truth. I did when I was in the NFL, and I don’t (really) do it now because it’s a waste of time. I last smoked a couple of months ago, and have maybe two to three times a year.”
Williams is trying to maximize his days and is taking 21 hours this spring. He’ll need about six years of study and research to get his Ph. D and said, “I love the sound of Dr. Williams.”
He may even entertain politics someday, as he and wife Kristin have discussed. He’s an independent, naturally, but says he’d run on the Republican ticket because Texas is a one-party state.
“It’s possible. I like (the sound of) Governor,” he said. “I like the executive branch.”
What’s one more hat?
THE 2015 CLASS
Trev Alberts, Nebraska LB, 1990-93
Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma LB, 1984-86
Bob Breunig, Arizona State LB, 1972-74
Sean Brewer, Millsaps (Miss.) DL, 1989-92
Ruben Brown, Pittsburgh OT, 1991-94
Wes Chandler, Florida WR, 1974-77
Thom Gatewood, Notre Dame WR, 1969-71
Dick Jauron, Yale RB, 1970-72
Clinton Jones, Michigan State RB, 1964-66
Lincoln Kennedy, Washington OT, 1989-92
Rob Lytle, Michigan RB, 1974-76
Michael Payton, Marshall QB, 1989-92
Art Still, Kentucky DE, 1974-77
Zach Thomas, Texas Tech LB, 1992-95
Ricky Williams, Texas RB, 1995-98
Bill Snyder, Kansas State, 1989-2005, 2009-present
Jim Tressel, Youngstown State (1986-2000), Ohio State (2001-10)
HORNS IN THE HALL
Ricky Williams will be the 19th former Texas player or coach in the College Football Hall of Fame. Parenthesis reflect induction years:
Coaches (2): Dana Bible (1951), Darrell Royal (1983)
Quarterbacks (1): Bobby Layne (1968)
Running backs (4): Earl Campbell (1990); Chris Gilbert (1999); Harrison Stafford (1975); Ricky Williams (2015)
Fullbacks (1): Roosevelt Leaks (2005)
Wide receivers (3): Hub Bechtol (1991); James Saxton (1996); Malcolm Kutner (1974)
Tackles (1): Jerry Sisemore (2002)
Guards (2): Bud McFadin (1983); Harley Sewell (2000);
Defensive tackles (2): Doug English (2011); Steve McMichael (2009)
Linebackers (1): Tommy Nobis (1981)
Safeties (2): Jerry Gray (2013); Johnny Johnson (2007)