From an outside perspective, Utah State’s dramatic 44-41 double-overtime victory over New Mexico on Friday might have seemed like the beginning of quarterback Levi Williams’ comeback story.
The third-string QB started with 351 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns in his first start since 2021, and he still has one year of college eligibility left.
But the dynamic performance that kicked off the Aggies’ ticket to bowl season is more like a fairytale ending to the final chapter of his football book because Williams plans to forgo his final year of college eligibility to pursue his dream of becoming a Navy SEAL. Williams will complete his Master of Business Administration at USU’s business school in December.
“It’s always been in my heart my whole life. My mother was in the army. My grandparents were in the Army and Navy,” she said. “The people in the military are always what I want to emulate because they are some of the best people, the best teams on the planet.”
The 22-year-old came to the decision about two years ago, when a Navy chaplain spoke to one Williams attended the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. Williams was deciding between the Navy and Army Special Forces when the chaplain put him in touch with a former SEAL with whom he now trains together and seems like a mentor.
It’s an unconventional path for an athlete who was rated a three-star prospect coming out of high school and still has the skills to find success on the football field, but Utah State coach Blake Anderson says he’s clearly suitable for Williams.
“The guy is just unique in every way. I think his true sense of selflessness and fighting for the guy next to him is something tangible and real. You can see it,” Anderson said. “His ability to work, to do difficult things and to fight through things that are hard and difficult and painful is something that, in our society today, is hard to see. I think he’ll do a fantastic job. I can’t imagine anyone better suited to what he wants to do. “I’m super proud of the path he chose.”
Before Friday, Williams was buried on the depth chart and played almost exclusively on special teams. A transfer from Wyoming, Williams became the the first QB to rush for 200 yards and four touchdowns in a bowl while leading the Cowboys to victory in 2021 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But with Utah State, he entered the season on reserve Cooper Legas and McCae Hillstead.
When both QBs went down with injuries, Williams stepped in and the Aggies adjusted their offense to better accommodate his big arm strength and ability to play with his feet. Although Anderson said Williams has previously struggled with consistency in practices this season, he has approached the starting role with calm confidence. Not even a car accident on the Tuesday before the game could shake his nerves. Another driver stopped in front of the Williams on the highway and wrecked his car, he said, but he walked away without a scratch and took it as an omen.
“I was telling my head coach, ‘You know what? I think this is a sign that God really wants me to play in this game, because otherwise it could have been much worse,’” he said.
Williams brought that swagger to the game and shared it with his teammates.
“When New Mexico decided to kick a field goal in the second overtime, I looked at everyone on the sideline and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to win this game. It was a big mistake on their part.’”
He went on to signal the victory with a 13-yard touchdown run on a play that started with a dropped snap.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) November 25, 2023
Depending on which bowl game the Aggies receive, Williams says he plans to play. Atletico predicts that Utah State will face Georgia State in the famous Idaho Potato Bowl on December 23, which could mean Williams could come full circle by returning to the site of his previous record-breaking performance. In any case, he will be satisfied with how his college career ends.
“I feel like I’m playing with the house’s money at this point,” he said. “So I’m having as much fun as I can and being the best teammate I can be.”
(Photo: Sam Wasson/Getty)