After health issue and suspension, former top recruit Avantae Williams debuts for Miami

·5 min read

Avantae Williams was a National Signing Day coup for the Miami Hurricanes in 2019. More than 20 months later, he finally made his debut Saturday against the No. 18 North Carolina State Wolfpack in Miami Gardens.

Williams lined up at safety for a third-and-8 play late in the second quarter. North Carolina State threw an incomplete pass and had to punt.

Williams’ debut comes after a tumultuous start to his career, which included a season-ending medical issue last year and a domestic violence allegation in the summer. He was briefly dismissed from the team after the allegation and was suspended for six games once he was reinstated.

The suspension ended this week, which let Williams, who was the No. 2 safety in the composite rankings for the Class of 2020 and the Hurricanes’ top-ranked recruit in the cycle, finally play in a college football game Saturday.

A few weeks before training camp began, police charged Williams with three counts of aggravated battery on a pregnant woman, which is a felony. The alleged victim was Williams’ ex-girlfriend, who was 31 weeks pregnant with his child at the time, and the state ultimately opted not to pursue charges after she stated “she is not a victim and does not feel the defendant will harm her or her unborn child,’’ according to a final memo on the case.

“The victim advised she was in ‘emotional distress’ when she spoke to police,” the memo continued, “and that the police were trying to make the situation more than what it was.”

Williams spent one night in jail after allegedly grabbing the woman by the hair and throwing her outside their shared West Kendall apartment, causing her to hit her head on the ground. Miami dismissed him from the program the next day before reinstating him in August once the state decided not to pursue charges.

As a condition of Williams’ reinstatement, the Hurricanes suspended the 6-foot, 198-pound defensive back for six games, keeping him off the field until this weekend.

“Obviously, the situation changed with the way the case was handled,’’ coach Manny Diaz said in August. “What became our focus is, What can we best do for Avantae moving forward? And that’s really what we’ve put in a plan about. ... We want this to be educational, to be able to affect Avantae down the road, more so than anything we can teach on a football field, so some of the things [will include] mentorship, educational opportunities, the groups that he’s going to participate in and he’s got to meet those benchmarks to get back up to play.”

Williams didn’t practice at all in fall camp or for the first few weeks of September before he started to ramp up to play once his suspension ended. Diaz said Wednesday he expected Williams to contribute on special teams as he joins the competition in the secondary.

“It’s still his first ever college game out there,” Diaz said, “so you have to temper expectations of how you build your portfolio going forward.”

Williams, a second-year freshman, missed all of his first season because of an unspecified medical issue. He took part some in practice last year before getting cleared and joining the team as a full participant in spring practice. He played in the spring game and was a breakout performer in the offseason, expected to be one of the Hurricanes’ top four safeties before getting kicked off the team.

He didn’t crack Miami’s two-deep depth chart behind fellow safeties James Williams, Bubba Bolden, Kamren Kinchens and Gurvan Hall Jr., but will give the Hurricanes another high-upside option the rest of the way.

Miami Hurricanes place kicker Andres Borregales (30) kicks the ball on a kickoff during the first quarter of their ACC football game against the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, September 25, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Miami Hurricanes place kicker Andres Borregales (30) kicks the ball on a kickoff during the first quarter of their ACC football game against the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, September 25, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Borregales plays after battling illness

Andres Borregales missed at least one practice this week as he battled an illness, but the kicker was able to suit up for the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Borregales’ illness was not COVID-19. A virus has been going around campus for the last few weeks, and kept linebacker Avery Huff and cornerback Malik Curtis from traveling to North Carolina last weekend.

Curtis and Huff were back in uniform Saturday, too. Wide receiver Michael Redding III was the only player from the two-deep depth chart missing Saturday.

Miami also played without cornerback Al Blades Jr., quarterbacks D’Eriq King and Jake Garcia, running backs Cam’Ron Harris and Donald Chaney Jr., and offensive linemen Jalen Rivers, Corey Gaynor and John Campbell Jr. All are dealing with long-term injuries.

Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins have also officially been removed from the Hurricanes’ roster. The wide receivers are both expected to enter the transfer portal, Diaz said Monday.

2001 championship reunion

The weekend served as a celebration for Miami’s last championship season in 2001.

More than 40 players and coaches from that season, including coach Larry Coker, came together for a 20-year reunion and were introduced at halftime.

“We’re having an awesome time,’’ former starting right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez told the Miami Herald just before kickoff, adding that the former players got together on their own Friday night at The Tank Brewing Co. in Doral to begin the festivities.

Gonzalez said some of the former players who attended included Bryant Mckinnie, Najeh Davenport, James Lewis, Markese Fitzgerald, Andrew Williams, Jerome McDougle, LaVaar Scott, Brett Romberg, Daryl Jones, Matt Walters, Jamaal Green, Martin Bibla and Joe Fantigrassi. Ed Reed was also on the sideline in his role as chief of staff.

“Man, so many guys here,” Gonzalez said.

Former longtime UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who is living near Atlantic City, also came to the reunion.

“Brett and I got together, and paid for his flight and his hotel,’’ Gonzalez said. “He’s on our dime this whole weekend. Great weekend.’’

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