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Remembering Those With Retired Jerseys: Memphis Tigers HB DeAngelo Williams

DeAngelo Williams escaped a possible life of tragedy. Through his amazing talent he has been able to set records and create fans in every city he has played. Through his talent and generosity he will go down not only as a great Tiger but a even greater human.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past month staff writer Daniel Taylor and myself have detailed players from the Memphis Tigers who have, for one reason or another, had their jerseys retired.  The list for the Tigers is not a long list but men such as Dave Casinelli, Bill Crumby, Charles Greenhill, and Issac Bruce.  It is perfectly fitting that the final jersey in our series is Tiger great DeAngelo Williams.

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Recently there has been an influx of articles on Underdog Dynasty where our writers are naming various schools Mount Rushmore of players.  If the Memphis athletic program decided to build a monument in honor of the greatest Tigers it is certain DeAngelo Williams would make the list.  Not just for football, but Tiger athletics in general.  DeAngelo's name is legendary in this, mostly, basketball town.  His impact on and off the field rivals that of basketball greats such as Penny Hardaway and Keith Lee.  DeAngelo Williams clearly is the most recognizable name and face throughout the history of Memphis Tiger Football.  But how did DeAngelo reach this point in Memphis history and how has he blossomed in his post-Memphis career?

A Release From Life

A 2004 article in Memphis Magazine by Greg Russell details a troubling early environment that stood to derail Williams future.  Russell explains the early life of a young DeAngelo Williams, enamored by local Little Rock gang legends.  DeAngelo's mother, Sandra Hill, explained by saying "he was drawn to them (gangs) like a magnet."  Hill was also quick to remind that football, "saved his life."

With the potential of sliding in to a troubled life being a very possible option, DeAngelo fell in love with football.  However, his love for the game almost never materialized.  According to Ms. Hill, DeAngelo passed up on playing football several times although invites were extended from the kids at the schoolyard.  Once Williams accepted the invite to play his imagination was captured and his stars were officially realigned.

A Dream Turns Reality

Through football, DeAngelo found his belonging.  In early life there was a mindset that gangs would provide a release, a brotherhood, and a certain desirability from others.  Now, through football, DeAngelo had found all of these things.  Football had taken DeAngelo from a life with near certain tragedy to a life with endless possibility.

DeAngelo starred at Wynne High School in Wynne Arkansas.  He built a phenomenal resume and capped it off with a 2,000+ yard, 34 touchdown senior season.  His legend grew even more in the Arkansas high school playoffs as DeAngelo rushed for 1,000 yards in only 4 games.  All of this was no surprise to the locals as they had grown to love this would be Razorback.  However, on February 24th, 2001 Williams broke hearts and changed many in Wynne's fandom when he broke his nonbinding commitment to Arkansas and committed to Memphis.

A Historic Run

Tommy West, then head coach at Memphis, was building a program despite little to no support from his athletic department.  West was recruiting a cast of characters that would rewrite record books at Memphis.  Guys like Danny Wimprine, Maurice Avery, Albert Means, and Stephen Gostkowski would join DeAngelo to take Memphis fans on an incredible ride.  Throughout this ride the Tiger players would set school and NCAA records.

While watching his teammates roll through the Tiger records, DeAngelo was etching his name in the NCAA record books.  At one point DeAngelo was the record holder for career all purpose yards.  Williams still currently is tied for the record of most 100 yard rushing games in a career at 34.  In Williams 4 years at Memphis he rewrote the Tigers records, NCAA records, created a Heisman buzz, and led the Tigers to 3 bowl games (most ever consecutive and first bowl in 32 years).

His collegiate numbers speak volumes:

  • 100 yard rushing games in 34 of 44 games played.
  • 55 rushing toucdowns
  • 6,026 career rush yards
  • 7,573 career all purpose yards.
  • First Team All-American, 2005
  • 2006 first round NFL draft pick (27th overall)

Those numbers merely imagine a masterpiece of a college career.  When paint is put to canvas the picture is quite amazing.  Check out this YouTube clip from 2005 vs. UTEP to see what I mean.  Now seriously, watch it again and enjoy one more time.

A New Fanbase To Charm

After being drafted by the Panthers in 2006 DeAngelo was able to once again charm another city and fan base.  DeAngelo rushed his way in to the hearts of Panther fans through his 9 seasons with the Panthers.  His charm and openness to connect with fans made him a easy fan favorite.  Williams continued his record setting ways in the NFL as he practically rewrote the Panther's record books before signing with Pittsburgh in 2015 off-season.

Take a look at DeAngelo's Carolina career:

  • Carolina career rushing leader with 6,699 yards.
  • Carolina's career rushing touchdown leader with 46 touchdowns.
  • Longest rush attempt in team history at 77 yards.
  • Carolina's single season rushing record holder at 1,15 as well as touchdowns at 18.
  • Single game yard record and touchdown Carolina rushing records (210 and 4 respectively).
  • 2009 Pro Bowl selection.

A Larger Cause

No article about DeAngelo would be complete without speaking on how he has parlayed his career and celebrity in to a greater good.  DeAngelo would be the first to tell you about his love for his mother, the late Sandra Hill.  Having met Ms. Hill I can personally speak to her love for her son.  Her eyes would light up when speaking on DeAngelo.

During DeAngelos time at Memphis his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Sandra battled the cancer in such a brave way.  Where as most athletes keep these situations private, DeAngelo used them as a springboard for awareness to his mothers disease.  Sandra was the inspiration behind the NFL wearing pink in games.  Sadly, Ms. Hill passed May 16th, 2014.  DeAngelo used his grief constructively by writing a awareness piece on his mothers disease.  Please take a moment and consider donating to Williams foundation in hopes to beat breast cancer.

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DeAngelo Williams has set records and made lifelong fans at every stop he has made.  At a young age he found himself at a fork in the road and football admittedly saved his life.  His infectious smile draws you to him, his larger than life talent makes you a fan for life, and his generous heart continues to try and make the world a better place.