SALT LAKE CITY — Alex Smith has a big fan in the Bay Area. Former San Francisco 49ers nose guard Ian Williams, a teammate of Smith’s in 2011 and 2012, says he’s “rooting very, very hard” for the former University of Utah quarterback and his return to the NFL after suffering a horrific leg injury.

“It’s been fun to see him back in uniform, back on the field, and also seeing his progress from where he was to where he is now,” said Williams, who noted that people everywhere Smith has played are proud of his comeback.

“It just shows you the type of person that he is. He wasn’t the No. 1 overall draft pick for no reason a while ago.” — Ian Williams

Williams can relate to Smith’s situation. He, too, battled a serious infection while playing in the NFL. MRSA invaded his left ankle after fractures in back-to-back seasons and eventually cut short a promising career after the 2015 season. 

Despite being undrafted out of Notre Dame, Williams stuck with the 49ers and went on to become a team captain and signed a lucrative contract worth $27 million over five years. His infected ankle, however, ravaged by a spread to the joints and the destroying of cartilage, led to a release and an injury settlement instead. He lost full mobility because of bone damage.

Williams now works as a broadcaster and represents Applied Silver, a company that uses laundry technology (SilvaClean) to combat the spread of infection. The sports community has taken note. Presentations were made to all 32 NFL teams at the scouting combine. 

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In the midst of such advancements is Smith’s story. He’s gone from the possibility of amputation to getting back on Washington’s active roster. Williams understands a lot of what Smith has dealt with physically, including the use of a fixator to keep bones in place.

“It just shows you the type of person that he is. He wasn’t the No. 1 overall draft pick for no reason a while ago,” Williams said. “It’s because he works hard at pretty much everything that he puts his mind to and this is just another hurdle that he’s been able to eclipse and hopefully he continues to get better, knocks the rust off, and we can see some Alex Smith touchdown passes.”

Overcoming challenges and moments of despair along the way aren’t easy. Williams explained that it is a bit discouraging to come out of surgery and see a bunch of metal bars coming out of your leg. It leads to a crossroads, according to Williams. A path of disparity, or a route of maturity, success and overcoming adversity. Signs of progress accompany the latter, he said, such as jogging, running and other things as body and mind respond to the new activities without fear of getting injured again.

Like many folks, Williams watched the ESPN documentary of Smith’s journey, which included plenty of gruesome images of the injury.

Trainers check on San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Ian Williams during game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago. Williams’ career was cut short after MRSA invaded his left ankle after fractures in back-to-back seasons. | AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

“I could definitely relate. I wasn’t grossed out or anything because I literally had been in that type of rehab, that type of setting a couple of years ago,” said Williams, who added that it made him remember everything he went through and how far he has come.

Although playing football is no longer an option, the 30-year-old is grateful he can still get around and do things like play with his kids. 

“Just watching Alex, watching that whole special on him, it was very refreshing to see. I hope a lot of people were able to see that and understand in life some things are going to be taken from you — whether it be physically with the injury,” Williams said. “But, can you come back from these things? How can you come back from these things? What’s your mentality? Do you want to work hard to get back? Do you want to do certain things to be able to alleviate the pain that you’re dealing with?”

Williams is hopeful that viewers gained confidence in watching Smith and his return. They saw him at his worst in some of the clips. However, Williams noted there were plenty of inspiring highlights as well.

“I’ve followed Alex since he was at Utah. I’ve watched football since I was young,” said Williams, who was excited Smith also had good opportunities with Kansas City and Washington. “So if anybody is rooting hard for him, I’m rooting very, very hard for him.”