University of California cornerback Kameron Jackson was headed straight for him. Little did Kasen Williams know, what would happen next would mostly derail his collegiate career and greatly diminish any hopes of exceeding in the NFL. In a freak football collision, Kasen suffered a devastating leg injury, breaking his fibula and incurring a complex fracture from a Lisfranc injury. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian had this to say:
"He'll take it like a champion. He'll do whatever we need him to do to get healthy and he'll get back."
The injury to the star wide receiver was a massive blow to the Dawgs. Standing at 6'3, 215, Williams was a large, physical receiver capable of hauling in difficult balls thrown his way. In 2012, he led the team in receptions and receiving yards. A consistent blocker and contributor to special teams, Kasen could do it all. He was every coach's dream at wide receiver. Coming out of Skyline high school in Sammamish, Washington, he was widely regarded as one of the nation's most impressive wide receiver prospects and he excelled not only in football, but also track and basketball. When MaxPreps named him the Male Athlete of the Year for 2010-2011, they compared him to Apollo, Zeus, and Terrell Owens. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has consistently been on the record stating his love for multi-sport athletes:
"The first questions I'll ask about a kid are, ‘What other sports does he play? What does he do? What are his positions? Is he a big hitter in baseball? Is he a pitcher? Does he play hoops?' All of those things are important to me. I hate that kids don't play three sports in high school. I think that they should play year-round and get every bit of it that they can through that experience. I really, really don't favor kids having to specialize in one sport. Even [at USC], I want to be the biggest proponent for two-sport athletes on the college level. I want guys that are so special athletically, and so competitive, that they can compete in more than one sport."
Kasen was famous for his athleticism, creating highlight reels that every high school athlete dreamed of:
He received many athletic honors in high school, including being named "first team All-American by USA Today, ESPN, and Maxpreps.com". Despite attention from elite football programs all across the nation, the local kid chose to stay in the area that raised him and committed to Washington. In his freshman year with the Huskies, Kasen was an immediate contributor, filling a role on special teams and racking up 427 receiving yards along with six touchdowns. In his sophomore year, he took it to the next level. Catching 77 balls for 878 yards and six touchdowns, Kasen ended the year with an honorable mention from the All-Pac-12 honors. In his junior year, he experienced the devastating leg injury that shocked Husky nation. In his final year of college, Kasen just wasn't the same. He started only six out of the 13 games and totaled 20 receptions for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Coming out of college in 2015, Kasen received very little national attention. He wasn't invited to the 2015 combine and wasn't drafted. After failing to be drafted, the Cincinnati Bengals reached out to the receiver in hopes of giving him a shot. However, a failed physical with the team doctor cut that dream short. Being a free agent available to sign with any team, local Seattle sports radio engaged in heavy media speculation that Carroll might give the youngster a shot with the Seahawks. The rumblings were quickly confirmed; the young wide receiver with something to prove (sound familiar?) signed with the team in June for rookie minicamp.
Kasen took each day slowly. With limited opportunities to make an impact, he had to make sure that coaches saw him competing hard each and every day. The receiver later spoke of the experience:
"It brought my hunger back and my motivation back," Williams said. "It gave me back my love for the game of football. I'd played very well for my whole life up to that point. I was coasting."
In preseason, Kasen played all four games, catching four passes for 48 yards a touchdown. The lone touchdown came against the Raiders on a corner end zone throw from BJ Daniels.
On September 5th, his football dreams once again took a hit when he was released. However, just one day later Seattle signed him to the practice squad. Coaches saw potential for the receiver and they wanted a chance to develop him. He was focused on competing, in hopes of eventually making the roster.
"If I was to celebrate now it would be like I'm happy to be here,'' Williams said at the time "I am happy to be here (on the practice squad) but this isn't where I want to be. I've got better things to accomplish.''
As the season progressed, injuries rocked the Hawks roster. In December, Williams finally got his shot: he was added to the 53-man roster, replacing tight end Anthony McCoy who had a high ankle sprain. Though his presence was barely felt on the field (one catch for eight yards over two games), he's managed to at least get those first-season jitters out of the way and could have an advantage over Kenny Lawler and others.
In 2016, Kasen will once again have the opportunity to make the Seahawks roster. Unfortunately, the position group is stacked as ever - and the competition will be tougher than previous years. Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, and Paul Richardson all seem to have roster spots locked up. Kasen will be battling against Lawler, Kevin Smith, and a few others to make the likely final spot. (Hey Kasen, how's your work on special teams?)
However, his life story is a testament towards his perseverance. If anyone can stun critics, make the roster, and have an impact - it's Kasen.