During a summer workout in July, Kameren Williams was pulled to the side by an assistant.
For the first time in his life, he was told he wouldn’t be able to finish a workout.
“Our trainer (John Johnson) came up to me in the middle of the workout,” Williams said. “I told him ‘what do you mean I can’t work out anymore?’ He didn’t tell me into details, but he said, ‘the doctor is going to sit you out, you can’t be out here right now’.”
Just days before, Williams had visited a school cardiologist to check on his heart in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After undergoing an EKG — which measures the rate at which the heart beats — the cardiologist found that he had an abnormal heartbeat, and called for more testing.
Two MRI’s and a stress test later, Williams’ life changed forever. Diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson White Syndrome — a rare heart condition in which there is an extra electrical pathway in the heart that leads to periods of rapid heart rate.
After months of doctor visits and tests, Williams was officially ruled medically unable to participate or compete in football activities. And just like that, he could never play the sport he loved again.
“It was life-changing for sure, he said.” “We ain’t ever been through nothing like this. So, telling them, it was hard.”
For as long as Williams could remember, all he could think about was football. In high school, Williams was undersized compared to the average Division 1 offensive lineman, playing left and right tackle at 6-foot-5, 250-pounds. Applying his technique to the best of his abilities, Williams received numerous Division 2 offers as a senior, but with his eyes on playing at the highest level, he bet on himself ,opting for the junior college route.
“Kill or be killed,” Williams, a former two-star prospect, said about his mentality.
At just 17-years-old, Williams enrolled at Trinity Valley Community College, where he would redshirt the season to adjust and work on his body. As a redshirt freshman, he played in nine games, mostly for the second unit. He recalls “becoming the man” in his third season, as he started in five games while nursing a shoulder injury that would ultimately force him to sit out.
Out for the remainder of his redshirt sophomore campaign, Williams stopped receiving phone calls from college coaches for over a month. He cautiously committed to Incarnate Word, a D-1 FCS school, as a safety net just in case he wouldn’t get any more offers.
But out of the blue on his birthday, Williams got a call from former FIU offensive line coach Allen Mogridge, offering him an opportunity.
“When coach Mo had called me, I was really blessed to hear his voice,” he said. “I knew this where I needed to be.”
On his visit to FIU’s campus, Williams, born and raised in Texas, was astounded.
“It was like paradise,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. Coming out of the plane, it was 80 degrees in December, palm trees everywhere. I’m like ‘man, this is like heaven’.”
Williams signed in December 2020, and begun classes on campus in January. COVID-19 would draw the Panthers back from working out until the summer. And in retrospect, that may have saved his life.
From the time Williams got to FIU in January until March 16 — the date they suspended spring training — he worked out consistently. It wasn’t until July, four months later, when he received his first ever electrocardiogram (EKG). Even though the NCAA doesn’t require electrocardiograms in preseason screenings, FIU does. He underwent an EKG when he first got to campus which yielded standard results. But when he returned in July in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, FIU required players to get a second EKG. This time, the results were anything but standard. Williams is thankful that despite the bad news, he has not had to undergo surgery.
“It’s very rare,” he said. “When you’re born, it’s in you. You can live your whole life, and you’ll never know until you go to a cardiologist and get an EKG.
“The past couple of months have been hard just trying to deal with all of this. School, life, it’s been real hard, but you know, I’m gonna get through it. I’m gonna keep on pushing.”
Williams’ playing days may be over, but his career at FIU isn’t. He’s set to graduate with a degree in Recreation and Sports Management in two semesters, and will return to Miami to be a graduate assistant coach under Butch Davis.
“Coach Davis is giving me the opportunity, so I’m very blessed for him for letting me do this and to be able to be with the team,” he said. “He’s a real standup guy. I love coach Davis. He tells it how it is; he doesn’t sugarcoat it, and I love people like that.”
Williams will likely work alongside his former offensive line coach Joel Rodriguez, who’s been by his side throughout the past year.
“He’s been with me through this journey as well,” Williams said. “He’s a real good guy; I love him, too.”
Up ahead is a new year with a better tomorrow. Williams looks to translate the work he once put in on the field into coaching. He also wants athletes across the country to get examined.
“They know how bad I wanted to be out there with those guys,” he said. “When I come back, I know I’m going to be with them a lot, so that’s going to help me too.
“I really advise everybody to get checked up. You really never know what you have going on in your body until you go to the doctor. It could be life or death, you never know.”
FIU had not yet responded to a request for comment by the time of the story’s publication.