ashington wanted to get Kasen Williams involved. It was the second quarter. The Huskies were playing Cal. The coaching staff signaled in a play to create separation between the receiver and defensive back.
Quarterback Keith Price dropped back to pass, while Williams sprinted down the field. The pass was short. The junior broke off his route and jumped.
As he hung in the air, trying to corral the ball, Williams became tangled with the defensive back.
“I just remember, on my way down … it was a different way of falling,” Williams said.
As his toes made contact with the turf, all of the defender’s weight was on his left foot. He had to use his forearms to drag himself toward the sideline. He thought he had sprained his ankle. He didn’t think it was serious.
A coach asked him if he could walk on the injured foot.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
Williams was helped to Washington’s sideline evaluation area. The Huskies’ training staff cut off his shoe and sock.
“As soon as I saw my foot, I was like, this is not good,” Williams said. “Right under all my toes, where you could draw a straight line without making any contact with my toes, that part of my foot was cocked to the side. It was slanted.”
He looked at the awkward angle of his toes. He knew his season was over. As he was carted off the field with his left leg extended, he held up his gloved hands in the shape of a “W” and asked himself one question: Why?
“I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” Williams said. “When I got hurt, I just took a step back, looked at it from a bird’s eye view and just asked, ‘Why did it happen?’”
Seven months later, after enduring two surgeries and a lengthy recovery process, Williams believes the experience “was one of the best things that happened to me."
I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. When I got hurt, I just took a step back, looked at it from a bird’s eye view.
– Washington receiver Kasen Williams
Finding his silver lining
By Mason Kelley
On Oct. 26, 2013, Kasen Williams suffered a left-foot injury that required two surgeries, plates, pins and screws to repair.
While Williams was being examined on the sideline, his parents, Aaron and Rhonda, watched from the stands.
“To be up in the stands watching your son have an injury like that, it was just ugly,” said Aaron, who also played receiver during his college career with the Huskies. “I can’t explain it any other way. It was just ugly.”
Williams was transported to Harborview Medical Center where he was treated by Dr. Stephen K. Benirschke, who is widely regarded as one of the top foot specialists in the country.
“Dr. Benirschke is well known,” Rhonda Williams said. “He knows his stuff. There’s no question about that. He’s well respected. To know he (Williams) was going to have that kind of care makes it a little bit easier.”
The first step in Williams’ recovery was to reduce the dislocation without causing further damage to the ligaments and nerves in the foot.
“That’s a job in and of itself,” said Rob Scheidegger, Washington’s head football athletic trainer.
Once the bones were back in the right places and the joints had been lined up properly, the next step was to keep everything in place. To do that, Williams needed a complete reconstruction of his foot.
“The last thing you want in a foot, with so many biomechanical difficulties that the ankle joint has, you don’t want anything out of alignment,” Scheidegger said. “That’s just going to cause you problems down the road. Having those joints and ligaments heal in the right places is really critical.”
To get Williams’ foot aligned so it would heal, Benirschke performed two surgeries that required plates, screws and pins to keep everything in place.
“He (Benirschke) wants everything to be perfect, so it took hours and hours of surgery,” Scheidegger said.
Once the surgery was complete, the injury needed time to heal. Dr. Benirschke didn’t want Williams to lose all of the strength in his left leg, so instead of crutches, the receiver used a device that made it look like he was walking on a "peg leg."
“That allowed him to work it, instead of just resting it,” Rhonda said.
With the aid of that peg leg, Williams was able to spend time catching footballs fired from a JUGS machine. But, as the months passed, he didn’t rush his recovery. He stuck to the rehabilitation plan and, as he hit benchmarks, he asked Washington’s training staff, “OK, what’s next?”
“He’s done the right things,” Scheidegger said. “He’s done everything that’s been asked of him. He has a very positive attitude, and that makes a big difference over time.”
For Williams, the past seven months has been all about embracing the power of patience.
“I’ve never been hurt before,” he said. “I’ve been playing football for 13 years and I’ve never had to suffer through an injury. I’m a very impatient person. What this taught me is patience, slowing down, enjoying the process and just being able to learn different things.”
To be up in the stands watching your son have an injury like that, it was just ugly. I can't explain it any other way. It was just ugly.
– Aaron Williams, Kasen's father
Kasen Williams wears his 'peg leg' during a game last season.
Photo by Mason Kelley
"I needed to slow my life down
and get my energy right."
learning more about himself
Williams wanted 2013 to be a breakout season. He thought about it so often, he endured a few sleepless nights early in fall camp.
He tried to figure out what he needed to do in order to take the next step. After being one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of Skyline High School in Sammamish, he wanted to set himself apart from his peers.
So, one day before practice, he wrote three goals on a ripped sheet of paper and tucked it into his sock. The goals were simple, little reminders of things he expected to accomplish: Come back to the ball. Be patient. Play faster.
He spent time catching extra passes after practice. He did everything he thought he needed to do in order to point his career in a positive direction. But it wasn’t until he endured a devastating injury that he realized there were things he needed to improve mentally to match his physical gifts.
“I needed to be able to slow my life down and get my energy right,” Williams said. “Just focus on things I was never able to focus on, because everything was just sports, sports, sports.”
Williams started to meditate. He tries to carve out time each day, even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes, to clear his mind.
“I feel like I can really calm my mind down,” he said. “Everyone has thousands of thoughts every single day, and I’m able to control those now. Before, when I would drop a ball, it would take me out of the game. Now, if I drop a ball, I move on to the next one. Dwelling on the past is not going to help you.”
With his recovery on schedule, Williams is focused on his future. He is able to sprint at 85 percent. His jumping ability is coming back. He is getting to the point where he can train on back-to-back days without being sore.
“I’m feeling pretty good about where I am,” Williams said. “I’ll definitely be 100 percent by August.”
As his physical health improves, Williams is also
working to be a better teammate and leader.
“I have high expectations for myself,” he said.
“What I’ve done here so far, I wouldn’t consider
it a legacy at all. I think there’s a lot of room
for improvement. I think there’s a lot more I
To do that, Williams wants his “energy” to be
right from the beginning.
When he steps on the field for the Huskies’
season opener in Hawaii, Williams wants Washington fans to see a player who is more electric than he has ever been.
“You’re going to notice me on the field,” he said. “That’s what I want people to see. I want people to see change. I don’t want people to look at me and say, ‘Oh, he made a few good plays.’ I want people to say, 'He looks faster, he’s making more plays, he’s being more of a leader.’ I want all of that.”
When Williams crawled to the sideline after hitting the turf against Cal, he thought he sprained his ankle. He figured he would miss a game and be back on the field. He never expected it to be a life-changing event. But after two surgeries and a lengthy recovery, he believes he has benefitted from the experience.
“I think it was good for me,” he said. “I think it was necessary.”
Kasen Williams calls his injury one of the best things that has ever happened to him.
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