DeAngelo Williams was one of the best running backs in Carolina Panthers franchise history.
Williams, who entered the NFL in 2006 as one of the best running backs the Memphis Tigers have ever produced, led the league with an incredible 18 rushing touchdowns in 2008.
Williams went on to rack up 6,846 rushing yards and 61 rushing touchdowns in nine seasons with the Panthers from 2006 to 2014.
He also holds multiple Panthers franchise records, including the most rushing touchdowns in a season (18) and rushing touchdowns in a single game (four).
There’s no doubt DeAngelo Williams made an indelible mark on Carolina Panthers franchise history.
DeAngelo Chondon Williams was born to parents Odell and Sandra in Wynne, AR on April 25, 1983.
DeAngelo has an older sister, Kinya, and a younger sister, Garlanda.
Williams attended Wynne Senior High School in his hometown from 1998 to 2001. He excelled in football and track for the Wynne Yellowjackets.
Williams’s time of 10.81 seconds in the 100-meter dash set a new state 4A record. He was part of the Yellowjackets’ 2001 track team that earned runner-up honors in the 2001 Arkansas state track championships.
On the other hand, DeAngelo Williams emerged as Yellowjackets head football coach Donald Campbell’s top running back.
Williams’ mother, Sandra Kay Hill, was fiercely protective of her only boy.
Hill left her seat in the bleachers and leaped over the fence to tend to DeAngelo, who injured his ankle during one of his high school football games.
When DeAngelo saw his mom as he made his way to the Yellowjackets’ bench, he implored her to go back to the bleachers and watch the game.
Unfortunately, DeAngelo’s fractured foot forced him to sit out a huge chunk of his sophomore season with the Yellowjackets.
Former Wynne product and All-Pro running back @DeAngeloRB is back in Region 8 tonight as part of “An Evening of Hope with DeAngelo Williams”
Williams is sharing his personal story and the formation of The DeAngelo Williams Foundation and the mission of 53 Strong. pic.twitter.com/Uete7QH1Yj
— Matthew Schwartz (@mattschwartztv) August 24, 2019
Williams returned with a vengeance for his junior season in 2000. He racked up 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and earned a spot on the Arkansas All-State team at the turn of the millennium.
Williams upped the ante as a senior. He had an incredible 2,204 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns as he led the Yellowjackets to the state 4A title game against the Stuttgart Ricebirds.
Williams had 939 rushing yards in four postseason games leading up to the showdown against Stuttgart.
He continued his playoff tear with 194 rushing yards on 24 carries against the Ricebirds. Williams’s four touchdowns included two on the ground, one in the air, and another one on special teams.
DeAngelo Williams’s herculean effort on the high school gridiron earned him Offensive Player of the Year honors from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2001.
As Williams’s high school football career wound down, the Iowa Hawkeyes, Arkansas Razorbacks, Ole Miss Rebels, and Memphis Tigers had him on their radars.
DeAngelo Williams ultimately committed to Tommy West’s Memphis Tigers, a moribund college football program he helped resuscitate in the mid-2000s.
College Days with the Memphis Tigers
DeAngelo Williams attended the University of Memphis from 2002 to 2005. He suited up for Memphis Tigers head football coach Tommy West.
Although Williams spent his formative years in Arkansas, he felt his four-year tenure in Memphis helped shape him into the man he is today.
“I was born and raised in Arkansas, but I was built in Memphis,” Williams told Phil Stukenborg of the Memphis Tigers’ official athletics website in the fall of 2019.
Williams was a profound difference-maker who helped turn the Tigers’ fortunes around.
Although Memphis had a terrible 3-9 win-loss record in Williams’s true freshman season in 2002, the Tigers flipped a switch the next three seasons.
With DeAngelo Williams gashing defenses, Memphis averaged eight wins per season from 2003 to 2005.
Williams had 50 rushing touchdowns during that three-season stretch. He added five receiving touchdowns for good measure.
To nobody’s surprise, DeAngelo Williams earned three consecutive C-USA Offensive Player of the Year honors from 2003 to 2005.
Behind Williams’s resurgence, the Tigers ended their 32-year bowl drought in impressive fashion. Memphis played in three straight bowl games from 2003 to 2005. They won two of them: the 2003 New Orleans Bowl and the 2005 Motor City Bowl.
Williams had 233 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in Memphis’s 38-31 victory over the Akron Zips in the 2005 Motor City Bowl. DeAngelo, whose 34th 100-yard rushing game set a new college football record, ran away with MVP honors.
Williams broke the record after he racked up 18 yards down the middle in the third quarter. Prior to that, his 33 100-yard games tied him with Archie Griffin and Tony Dorsett.
DeAngelo Williams #Memphis Tigers career needs a second look. All time team leader w/6,026 Yards and Rush TDs 55. Had back to back 1,900 yard seasons 2004-05. In 2004 he had 2 260 yard games vs USF and Houston. pic.twitter.com/83xLHERrgo
— Matt Jenkins (@DutchMatt187) December 15, 2019
Fostering a Strong Work Ethic
Williams, whose 6,026 rushing yards was a new school record, also earned First-Team All-American honors at the end of his senior season in 2005. He also finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting that year.
As Williams’s eleven-year NFL career wound down in 2016, he gave credit to the Memphis Tigers for prolonging his time on the pro gridiron.
“They teach you how to grind,” Williams told ESPN 92.9 FM (via USA TODAY’s Tom Schad) in the spring of 2017. “Because nothing comes easy when you come from the University of Memphis. Nothing comes easy. The education, the success that you get—you know that you’ve worked tooth and nail to get where you are.”
Not only did Williams hone his work ethic at the University of Memphis, but he also met his future wife Risalyn Burzynski during their college days. Burzynski was a biology major, per The Commercial Appeal’s Michael Donahue.
Cancer in the Family
It wasn’t always rosy for Williams during his college days at Memphis. He faced the toughest battle of them all: his mother Sandra Kay Hill’s breast cancer diagnosis.
Hill received the diagnosis during DeAngelo’s junior season with the Tigers in 2004. Consequently, she had to undergo a double mastectomy and lymph node removal.
Fortunately, Hill’s doctor told her the cancer was in remission after she underwent both procedures.
In a first-person essay Williams wrote for Sports Illustrated eleven years later, he mentioned his mother kept her ordeal a secret from him. She didn’t want DeAngelo, a self-confessed mama’s boy, to worry about her.
Sandra’s diagnosis did not come as a shock to her family. According to DeAngelo, she inherited the mutated Breast Cancer 1 gene from his maternal grandfather.
Four of his aunts—Linda Faye, Mamie Earl, Mary, and Theresa Gaye—eventually passed away due to breast cancer at various points in time between 1992 and 2011.
Sadly, his mother followed suit in the spring of 2014.
A battle-tested DeAngelo Williams promptly took his act to the National Football League in 2006. He eventually became one of the best running backs in Carolina Panthers franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Carolina Panthers made DeAngelo Williams the 27th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Williams’s college football team, the Memphis Tigers, retired his No. 20 jersey toward the end of his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers.
Williams played behind Panthers starting running back DeShaun Foster from 2006 to 2007.
Williams had a combined 1,217 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns during that two-season stretch.
The Panthers were a mediocre team that averaged eight wins per year in DeAngelo Williams’s first two seasons in the NFL.
Consequently, they missed the postseason for the tenth time in their thirteen-year existence.
When DeAngelo Williams took over starting running back duties in 2008, Carolina turned the corner.
Williams’s 1,515 rushing yards and league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns helped the Panthers duplicate their franchise-best 12-4 win-loss record in the 2008 NFL campaign.
The Arizona Cardinals ended the Panthers’ memorable season with a resounding 33-13 victory in the 2008 NFC Divisional Round.
Nevertheless, DeAngelo Williams earned his first and only Pro Bowl nod at the season’s end.
As Williams’s NFL career took off, he became increasingly frustrated when opponents tackled him by his dreadlocks.
That happened twice in the 2011 NFL season alone. Williams decided to braid his dreadlocks in a ponytail to prevent that from happening again, per the Charlotte Observer (via Yahoo! Sports).
2008: Panthers Week- Carolina drove down the field later in 1Q & capped the drive w/ DeAngelo Williams burst right up the gut for a 13 yard TD. It was the 1st TD on what would be a huge game vs #NYGiants defense. Panthers go up 7-3. #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/wkgwLKiqMs
— BigBlueVCR (@BigBlueVCR) September 13, 2022
Just as Williams became Carolina’s go-to running back, he encountered two major setbacks.
Williams sustained a mid-foot sprain during a Week 7 game against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2010 NFL season. Williams’s injury forced him to sit out the Panthers’ next ten games.
With Williams out of commission, Carolina crashed and burned in head coach John Fox’s last year at the helm. The Panthers won just two games and missed the postseason for the second straight year.
Cancer Rocks His World
To compound matters for DeAngelo, his mother’s doctors confirmed his family’s worst fears. Her cancer had returned with a vengeance in 2010.
Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, Sandra Kay Hill moved into a new house with her husband, Odell, in Wynne, AR.
Hill’s cancer reached a point of no return four years later. In DeAngelo’s first-person essay for Sports Illustrated, he mentioned his mother had to sleep in the living room when she could not walk normally anymore.
That way, Hill family members were able to look after her at all hours of the day.
When DeAngelo knew his mother’s death was just a matter of time, he wrote his thoughts on a notepad, sat right next to her bed, and prepared to bare his soul to her.
Sandra Kay Hill stopped her son after he dropped hints of what he wanted to say.
She told him none of his aunts were older than 50 when they died. Hill, who was 53 years old, expressed gratitude she surpassed them. She also thanked DeAngelo for giving her two precious granddaughters.
Hill told her son her job on earth was finished. Whenever one of her relatives bawled her eyes out after she saw her predicament, Hill told her to stop. She said she was going home. It was supposed to be a festive—not somber—atmosphere.
“Her words changed my perspective,” DeAngelo Williams wrote on SI.com in the spring of 2014. “There I was, upset beyond everything, and she’s never batted an eye, cried, or complained.”
— NFL (@NFL) September 7, 2014
Unspeakable tragedy marred Williams’s final year with the Panthers in 2014. His mother Sandra Kay Hill passed away due to breast cancer.
A Falling Out with the Panthers
Williams was upset about how the Panthers handled his mother’s death. He told WBTV (via ESPN’s David Newton) in February 2015 only defensive end Greg Newton attended her funeral on May 24, 2014.
Ironically, Charlotte, NC police arrested Hardy on suspicion of domestic violence just eleven days before the funeral.
Williams reached out to Panthers head coach Ron Rivera in the aftermath of his mother’s death. Carolina general manager David Gettleman rang Williams up several minutes afterward to offer his condolences. Neither Rivera nor Gettleman was at Hill’s funeral.
As for Panthers team owner Jerry Richardson, it wasn’t until weeks after the funeral that he spoke with Williams. Richardson wrote a letter to Williams saying he liked the first-person story the latter wrote about his mom for Sports Illustrated.
“It stung to know… you did everything you possibly can for this organization to be successful, and then upon your darkest hour they let you handle it by yourself,” Williams told WBTV (via ESPN). “
On the business side of things, Williams wasn’t upset when the Panthers released him in the spring of 2015.
Williams’s injury-plagued 2014 NFL season limited him to just six games. Jonathan Stewart picked up the slack for Williams with 809 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the regular season.
Stewart’s emergence gave Williams an indication his days in Carolina were numbered. He knew it was inevitable so he was never bitter about getting released.
In the four years leading up to Williams’s release, he had a combined 2,635 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns for the Panthers.
Carolina averaged eight wins per season in the first four years of the Ron Rivera era. The Panthers made two postseason appearances but never made it past the NFC Divisional Round from 2011 to 2014.
As of the 2017 NFL season, DeAngelo Williams held seventeen Carolina Panthers franchise records, including:
- Most rushing yardage in a single season (1,515)
- Most rushing touchdowns in a single season (18)
- Most rushing touchdowns in a single game (four)
- Most rushing yardage in a single game (210)
- Most 1,000-plus yard seasons (two)
DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the spring of 2015.
Williams’s change of scenery also marked a new phase in his life. He married his college sweetheart Risalyn Burzynski in Memphis, TN on July 23, 2016. The couple has three kids.
As DeAngelo Williams entered his first year with the Steelers in 2015, he received some bad news: NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent told him in a phone conversation the league will not allow him to wear pink accessories during the season.
Williams originally planned to play with pink shoes and wristbands as a tribute to his late mother and other women who have succumbed to breast cancer. For Williams, it wasn’t just about celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. It was a way of life.
“It’s not just about October for me; it’s not just a month, it’s a lifestyle,” Williams told ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “It’s about women getting recognized to get tested.”
Williams had a backup plan. He colored the tips of his dreadlocks pink instead. He had also used pink toenail polish after his mother died in 2014.
The NFL fined him $5,787 for using an eye black that sported the message, “Find the Cure” several weeks later.
In recognition of there being only 3️⃣4️⃣ days until the #Steelers season opener, let’s remember DeAngelo Williams’ (@DeAngeloRB) great 2015 season. Filling in for Le’Veon Bell, Williams posted:
1274 yards from scrimmage and 11 rushing TDs (tied for the most in the NFL) pic.twitter.com/bqmr6WpjRO
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) August 5, 2019
Williams backed up starter Le’Veon Bell during his two-year stint in the Steel City.
Still Ready to Play
DeAngelo showed everyone he still had plenty left in his tank in 2015. He racked up 907 rushing yards and led the league in rushing touchdowns (11) for the second time in his eleven-year pro football career.
The 33-year-old Williams picked up the slack for Bell, who served a three-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 NFL campaign.
Williams had a combined 275 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns against the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals through the first two weeks of the season.
Williams finished his final pro football season with 343 rushing yards on 98 carries.
The Steelers averaged eleven wins per season in Williams’s two years in the Steel City from 2015 to 2016. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh never made it past the AFC Championship Game during that two-year time frame.
After Williams played out his two-year contract with the Steelers, he entered the world of professional wrestling.
Williams told ESPN’s Michael Wonsover in the summer of 2017 that his foray into wrestling was a one-shot deal and a fitting tribute to his late uncle who passed away in 2012.
Williams’s uncle convinced him to become a wrestling fan when he was younger. Williams returned the favor and accompanied him to his first WrestleMania in Houston, TX.
Uncle and nephew went to around four consecutive WrestleMania tournaments in subsequent years.
During their fourth Wrestlemania, Williams’s uncle told him one of his dreams was to watch him wrestle.
DeAngelo, who initially balked at the mere thought of grappling with seasoned veterans, relented and told him he will do it when the opportunity presented itself.
Wrestling and Retirement
That moment came when Impact Wrestling commentator and Williams’s friend Josh Matthews reached out to the former Panthers running back in 2017.
Matthews asked Williams if he wanted to make his wrestling debut during Impact Wrestling’s Slammiversary event.
Williams politely declined at first but gave it a second thought. He wanted to do it just once for his uncle.
Before long, DeAngelo Williams stepped into the squared circle on July 2, 2017. Impact Wrestling paired him up with former NFL offensive lineman Quinn Ojinaka, whose wrestling nickname is “Moose.”
The duo went up against the tag team of Eli Drake and Chris Adonis.
Although Williams wrestled for only a short amount of time, he earned plaudits and rave reviews for his spectacular performance.
Williams wrestled like a grizzled veteran although he trained for the Slammiversary match in just three days, per ESPN.
— Nick Maraldo (@nickmaraldo) July 3, 2017
However, Williams’s wrestling debut wasn’t flawless – he smashed his face onto the mat after his jump from the top rope made him overshoot the table below.
DeAngelo Williams quickly hung up his wrestling boots at the end of the match. He had fulfilled his promise to his late uncle.
After sitting out the entire 2017 NFL campaign, Williams announced his retirement from the National Football League on Facebook in the summer of 2018.
DeAngelo Williams finished his eleven-year NFL career with 8,096 rushing yards and 61 rushing touchdowns on 1,730 carries.
Williams also had 2,106 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns from 2006 to 2016.
DeAngelo Williams, his wife Risalyn, and their three children currently reside in the Charlotte, NC area.
Williams has been active in the community since he retired from pro football at the end of the 2016 NFL season.
He established the DeAngelo Williams Foundation as a tribute to his mother and four aunts who succumbed to breast cancer.
Its goal is to initiate projects that help prevent the spread of breast cancer through early detection and research, according to the Memphis Tigers’ official athletics website.
Williams has organized the Phenomenal Pros Celebrity Golf Tournament and Celebrity Bowling Challenge in Memphis, TN since 2008.
Williams’s bike riding events in the Charlotte, NC area have helped raise money for his non-profit foundation.
Former NFL player DeAngelo Williams has paid for more than 500 mammograms to honor his mom who passed away from cancer@DeAngeloRB #caring #heartwarming #positivenews #cause #positiveenergy #MondayMotivation #mondaythoughts pic.twitter.com/LV9XtDVHfY
— ipledgefor (@ipledgef0r) November 2, 2020
One such event helped shoulder the expenses for 53 mammograms on August 10, 2019. The number 53 corresponds to Williams’s mother’s age when she passed away five years earlier.
Williams’s generosity knows no bounds. Several weeks after he helped pay for 53 mammograms, he donated $250,000 to the Memphis Tigers’ football program to help renovate the Billy J. Murphy Football Complex and fund the team’s nutritional development program.
Williams also donated money to the Tigers to help renovate their locker room eleven years earlier.
“I’m busier now than when I was playing football,” Williams told Stukenborg in September 2019. “But it’s fun. It’s giving. It’s so much better to give than to take.”
DeAngelo Williams was one of the contestants in Season 32 of CBS’s The Amazing Race.
Williams co-hosts the Cinnamon & Sugar podcast with Gary Barnidge.