This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Some retirements last longer than others.
For Utah running back Joe Williams, hanging up the cleats lasted 27 days. But the 23-year-old was back at Utes football practice after "retiring" last month to help bolster the team's depleted running back corps.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said No. 21 Utah (5-1, 2-1) is evaluating its onetime starting running back's readiness, seeing if he could play on Saturday at Oregon State.
"It's a day-by-day thing, and if he looks good, if everything goes well, he'll play on Saturday," Whittingham said. "If we have a reason that we think that's not in his or our best interest, then we won't do that."
Williams left after Week 2's 20-19 win over BYU, when his grasp on the starting job began to look tenuous after fumbles in each of the first two games along with 75 yards on 22 carries. At the time, Williams said he wasn't at the level he wanted to compete "mentally and physically."
Since then, Utah has taken plenty of damage to its running back unit: This past week against Arizona, sophomore Armand Shyne was lost for the season with an ACL tear. Junior Troy McCormick and freshman Zack Moss were both injured at Cal and did not dress against Arizona. Walk-on Jordan Howard, the fifth option, was hurt late against the Wildcats and isn't available this week against Oregon State.
Moss is "questionable" this week against the Beavers. If he's not able to play, Utah would look at starting sixth-string back freshman Marcel Manalo, who hasn't had a carry as a Ute.
While Williams' return from retirement might seem awkward from the outside, Whittingham said he's vetted the decision with his players. The team leadership council, Whittingham said, voted unanimously to allow Williams to come back.
Running backs coach Dennis Erickson said Williams' reception at his first practice back Tuesday was, in his eyes, welcoming.
"No issue at all. Not one issue," he said. "That's something obviously you think about. No question about it. Not just with our room, but every room. Our football team accepted him back with open arms. And they know he wants to help, and they want to help him be successful in my eyes."
Filling in after all-conference rusher Devontae Booker was hurt for the season last year, Williams had 477 yards and strong games against UCLA, Colorado and BYU. The 5-foot-11 senior from Allentown, Pa., by way of Brooklyn's ASA College, won the starting job in fall camp.
When he addressed the media on Sept. 13, he said he wanted to focus on finishing his degree and prepare for a life after football, also citing long-term injury concerns. Williams is also engaged.
Quarterback Troy Williams speculated Monday that Joe Williams, with whom he took several classes, was "enjoying life," and he wasn't sure a return was in the cards.
Erickson said Williams practiced "OK" on Tuesday, saying his fitness was good. Whittingham said it didn't take much convincing to bring him back into the fold.
"We reached out to him, and said, 'Hey, here's our predicament,'" he said. "And he knew it. He's been at the games following us. So he said, 'Hey, if I can come back and help this football team, I'm all in.' So it wasn't a long discussion, it was very brief. He's excited to be back."
Williams wasn't available for an interview Tuesday.
"We're grateful to have him back," offensive lineman Garett Bolles said. "He'll be a big time help coming in to finish the season."
P Senior running back Joe Williams has rejoined the Utes and could play on Saturday against Oregon State.
• Williams has 552 yards rushing in 12 games on 122 carries with three touchdowns
• Had 22 carries for 75 yards in first two games of 2016 before announcing he had retired.