Obstacles Can't Stop Huskies' Conwell

April 22, 2005

by Brian Beaky

Remember Will Conwell?

To the casual Husky fan, Conwell disappeared in the spring of 2003, after giving up a UW football scholarship to instead focus on a career in track and field.

Two years later, Conwell has reinvented himself as one of the nation's top college throwers, and is among the contenders for a Pac-10 discus title in May.

It didn't come easy.

Conwell was a local celebrity in his hometown of Kent, a star linebacker expected to follow the footsteps of his famous uncle, Husky and NFL tight end Ernie Conwell.

Somewhere along this pre-ordained path, however, something changed for Conwell. Two years worth of injuries and sparse playing time, combined with the heavy weight of expectations, leeched the fun from the game Conwell loved so much.

''There came a point where I realized that my motivation was no longer coming from within, from my love for the game,' he says. 'Had I kept playing, it would just have been to keep the scholarship check coming, and I didn't want to be one of those guys. It wasn't fair to me or anyone else to do that.'

Conwell decided to stick with football through offseason workouts in the winter of 2002-03, and re-evaluate his decision in the spring.

He never made it.

Midway through his offseason training program, Conwell broke both of his wrists in a weightlifting accident. That was it, he decided, he was done.

'I did feel at times that I was being tested, that the broken wrists were a penance I had to pay for quitting football,' he says.

Having surrendered his scholarship, Conwell delivered pizzas through the spring and summer to help earn money for school. Everywhere he went, locals reminded him of what he had given up, and questioned his decision to leave the game that had meant so much to his family, and his community.

'A lot of people I ran into tried to make me feel like I had let down the whole town,' Conwell recalls. ''You've let down Kentwood,' they'd say, or `There are kids who dream of having the opportunity you had, and you just threw it away.' That was really tough.'

With two broken wrists, feeling he had disappointed family and friends, Conwell was at an all-time emotional low when he went in to meet first-year UW throws coach Bud Rasmussen in the fall of 2003.

'He said he thought I could be an elite-level thrower,' Conwell recalls. 'I looked at myself at that point -- two broken wrists, emotionally down, having just quit a sport -- and I thought, `Are you kidding me? Me?' That he would have that kind of confidence in me really meant a lot. It helped me to believe in myself again.'

Two years later, Conwell's confidence is riding at an all-time high, with a No. 21 national ranking and an indoor season-best of 188 feet, 5 inches that, if duplicated outdoors, will rank Conwell among the greatest UW throwers of all-time -- a list which also includes uncle Ernie Conwell, an All-American shot-putter.

Once expected to follow his famous uncle's footsteps to athletic success, Conwell has in fact done just that -- just not in the expected way. Looking back, he wouldn't do it any differently.

'If I had defined myself by my football accomplishments, then I would have been disappointed with how it's turned out,' he says, looking out the windows of the Don James Center at the Husky Stadium field below. 'But I believe that who people are in life overshadows what they do. Success comes from within; I have faith and confidence in Christ, who gives me the strength through which I can not be defeated.'

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