Two different roads to return for Russell and Williams

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As Brian Kelly kicked off spring practice with his press conference Tuesday, he gave a long-awaited update on exiled players KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

Both Russell and Williams were expected to be key starters on the 2014 team, but the duo was among five players suspended from football activities while an academic misconduct case worked its way through the university. Russell and Williams accepted their two-semester suspension from school.Russell vowed to return and Williams made his intentions clear to his head coach that he planned to do so as well.

Since then, we’ve heard from Russell, mostly with updates from his Instagram page, showcasing the work he’s putting in to prepare for his senior season.

But even though both have served what appears to be the same punishment, Russell and Williams’ two avenues for return appear to be quite different. For Russell, it appears his long-awaited return for the summer session is on schedule.

“I know what KeiVarae’s situation is and have had a lot of contact with him,” Kelly said. “Academically he’s making the progress necessary to be back here. I can confidently say standing in front of you today he’s making all the steps necessary to be back here, be part of our football team this summer.”

In contrast to Russell, things have been trending in the wrong direction for Williams. After hinting at some potentially difficulties for Williams’ return around Signing Day, Kelly also acknowledged that he’d had little contact with his suspended defensive end, mostly getting his information from third-parties (likely his assistant coaches).

He also noted there’s some complexities for Williams, who also needs to have his re-application to the university accepted.

“He’s working right now.  He’s trying to make some money.  Right now he’s got to get re‑enrolled into school,” Kelly explained. “He’s got to re‑apply, go through that process. There are some uncertainties there. He’s trying to do the things necessary to have a Plan B if he needs one.”

Without knowing the details of the academic misconduct case, a process that was shrouded in secrecy and included an internal investigation through the school’s general counsel and then an Honor Code hearing, it’s impossible to know what makes the situation different for Williams, Russell or any of the other three athletes. While Kendall Moore and DaVaris Daniels also missed the entire season, Eilar Hardy was allowed to return to the field and will play out his eligibility after earning his degree from Notre Dame at Bowling Green.

Any hope Daniels had of returning to school disappeared after the academic work needed to earn back his eligibility was deemed too difficult. There could be elements of that going on with Williams as well, who would’ve been a fourth-year senior last year.

With a scholarship crunch still existing even with Matt Hegarty’s transfer and Ben Councell walking away from football, Kelly was candid when asked if he could guarantee a spot to Williams on the team if he was accepted back into school.

“I can’t guarantee him a spot, no.  There are other factors involved,” Kelly said.