TULSA, Oklahoma - As the University of Tulsa prepares for Arkansas on Saturday, they’re doing it without one of their top defenders in uniform.

But Cristian Williams is turning this setback into a positive.

Imagine the thing you love to do – suddenly gone.

“I was too shocked.  I mean, I couldn’t stop crying,” said Williams.

“To say ‘I have to pull your pads,’ and it’s over, is tough,” said head coach Philip Montgomery.

Williams was having the best season of his life, with a career high 11 tackles against Texas, but something wasn’t right.

“I went to get a Gatorade from my coach’s office.  I picked it up in my right hand and I couldn’t feel, like, any temperature or anything, so I just thought it was a hot Gatorade,” Williams said.

It wasn’t.

“I went back and I picked it up with my left hand and it was ice cold,” he said.

Tests revealed he had a cyst in his spinal column.  In day-to-day life, he’s fine, but his football career is over.

“Football was something that I loved, but it’s something that I have to put aside for a while,” stated Williams.  “Something I have to move forward from in life.”

“He’s still going to be a huge part of what this team and what this football program’s about,” said Montgomery.

After the initial shock, Williams, a New Orleans native who relocated to Dallas after Hurricane Katrina, took on a new attitude.

“It was tough, like, my life has basically just been stripped away,” Williams said, “but then I thought about it again, like, man can say one thing, but God can say another.”

Turns out, he hasn’t lost football forever.  You’ll still see him on the sideline at Chapman Stadium, he’s just in a different role.

“Day one, the day I found out I wasn’t playing football anymore, coach gave me the whistle, he gave me the script, and he say, ‘it’s your time now,’” recalled Williams.

With that attitude, and support from his teammates and family, and mom’s cooking, he’s doing his best to thrive in his new role and new life.

“I tend to never question God about ‘why me?’” Williams said.  “When it happened, I was just like, show me the way of life I’m about to do, just do it like I do football.”