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Utah RB Joe Williams explains midseason leave from team

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NFL team representatives will ask Utah running back Joe Williams plenty of questions next month at the NFL Scouting Combine about why he left the Utes team in the middle of the season last year, only to return several weeks later.

But if they want to know sooner than that, Williams is making the answers public.

The senior detailed a years-long battle with guilt and grief over the death of his sister in 2007 in a Thursday USA Today report that provides a full explanation, albeit a complicated one, for his decision to walk away from the game last September.

His 7-year-old sister, Kylee, died of acute myocarditis -- a heart muscle inflammation -- according to an autopsy cited in the report. The family filed a lawsuit because she was diagnosed, instead, with a viral syndrome, was discharged from the hospital, and died that night. Williams never truly recovered from the traumatic event and eventually had problems ranging from behavioral issues to a diagnosis of manic depression, to issues with prescription drugs, according to the report. He was 13 at the time of Kylee's death.

"People make it a big deal that I quit on the team. To me, it was necessary," Williams said. "I was learning to come to grips with the fact that it wasn't my fault. I'm 23 years old now, and I can't blame myself for something that occurred 10 years ago, no matter how painful or traumatic it was. It would be bigger to honor her in a much more meaningful way."

After a four-game absence, Williams agreed to return play for Utah when injuries ravaged the team at the running back position.

He was a different player upon his return, complete with a tattoo on his left arm reading "My Sister's Keeper." He rushed for 1,017 yards in only five games after rejoining the team, and finished the year with 1,407 with 10 touchdowns. He competed in January at the East-West Shrine Game, as well.

Game films from Williams' senior season, post-leave, will do plenty of talking for him with NFL scouts. As for why he temporarily left the Utes, he's willing to speak for himself in plenty of detail.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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