Ian Williams took fashion forward on Tuesday.
Hobbling around the Guglielmino Center on crutches, the senior nose guard sported a white long sleeve t-shirt with a sanctioned message for his teammates. In blue block letters the Brian Kelly philosophy "Next Man In" popped off Williams' chest, a command for new starter Sean Cwynar and new back-up Hafis Williams.
"They know how to watch film, they know how to get ready," Williams said. "They'll be fine. They don't need me."
That's a tough sell after Kelly called Williams Notre Dame's best defensive player. And those crutches were a reminder that the senior is a victim of first man out after spraining his left MCL against Navy during the third quarter. Williams exonerated the Mids' offensive line for any dirty play, saying he didn't get illegally blocked on the potentially season-ending snap.
Williams needs four-to-six weeks to recover, a bounce back time that puts him temptingly close to getting back on the field for the season finale at USC. If all goes according to plan, Williams won't need a bowl game to play again at Notre Dame.
"I really do want to play in that game," Williams said. "I'm just going to do what I can to get back. That's the goal right now, USC."
The long-term risk is obvious for Williams, who's played well enough to become a legitimate NFL prospect this season, anchoring Notre Dame's defensive line with a position-leading 37 tackles. Entering last weekend's meltdown against Navy, the Irish defense had been on a historic run, allowing 152 yards rushing combined against Boston College, Pittsburgh and Western Michigan. That was a program low since the Gerry Faust era.
Recapturing that momentum sans Williams may be a challenge too big with four Top 30 rushing offenses on tap to close the season. Rushing Williams back, however, could threaten his shot at a legitimate chance at the next level.
"Me and the doctors are going to be best friends for the next couple weeks," Williams said. "If they say I can go and I believe I can go, I'll be there."
Williams was hardly upbeat on Tuesday, but he was better than on the sidelines Saturday when the senior wondered if his season and maybe his career had just ended after a Navy player rolled into his legs. Williams was in tears on the bench with his left leg in an immobilizing cast.
"It didn't really hurt, it was just emotions of what if that was my last play, what if I can't go back in, can't help my teammates out? Is this a career-ending injury?" Williams said. "It was all going through my head. The predicament I'm in right now with the possible future. That was all that was going through my head. That's really why I was so emotional.
"I just couldn't really put a lot of pressure on it. I knew it was kind of bad, I knew I
couldn't go back in. And if I can't go back in, I know it's pretty serious. Things like that happen all the time. It's just unfortunate it had to happen."
Williams hopes the next fashion statement he makes is wearing full gear in the Los Angeles Coliseum.