The football world offers second chances like they were half-price buffet coupons on the Las Vegas strip. Look to the 2015 return of running back Adrian Peterson to the Minnesota Vikings, the multiple opportunities to bounce back for Cam Newton at a number of collegiate stops or the seemingly endless supply of “do-overs” Johnny Manziel received between Texas A&M and the Cleveland Browns.
Like it or not, football is a forgiving sport – even when the recipient is less-than-deserving. But when a knocked-off-his-perch athlete seems ready for real change, this is an occasion to assist transition, and Auburn has that opportunity in front of it with Duke Williams.
The oft-disciplined receiver was dismissed from the Auburn football team after allegations of a bar fight brought down the final straw on Williams’ college career in October of 2015. The NFL recently offered the former Tigers star another shot at a reprieve.
Even though Williams only played five games last season, he was invited to the NFL combine. He didn’t shine on the field during workouts and drills, but his moments with the media screamed repentance.
“If I didn’t get in any trouble, I know I’m a legit first-round pick,” Williams said at the combine in Indianapolis in February. “But God got other plans. I’m a first-round pick no matter what, but off the field I’m a seventh-round pick. My character is a seventh-round pick.
“I mean, I’m just happy to be here. It’s a blessing to be here. Whatever team picks me, first through seventh round, it doesn’t really matter. Undrafted. Whenever I get my opportunity, I’m going to just prove to them that I belong.”
In today’s age of hiring private coaches and PR firms to prepare for the NFL combine, the biggest job interview of a football player’s life, responses can be staged and feel rehearsed. Williams’ remorse felt real.
It’s now time for Auburn to take the next step in this healing process and let Williams back on campus to participate in the school’s Pro Day.
After a slow 4.72-second time in the 40-yard dash and an unimpressive showing on the field, Williams needs an avenue to improve his results. And if he truly is ready to put his rough-and-rowdy past behind him, what better place than an institution of learning and growth to help push along that change.
Auburn has very little to lose by allowing Williams to return to campus on March 7 to participate. If he turns things around (both on and off the field) and morphs into a model citizen, Auburn can take solace in the fact that it helped Williams get back onto his feet. If he falls off the repentance wagon, Auburn can still take credit for making every effort to help one of its own … selflessly giving even when it probably shouldn’t.