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College Exam

Football, Future Are Under Advisement for Eleanor Roosevelt's Williams

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2004; Page D01

As dusk approached on Monday evening, two teenage boys took turns blasting a football toward a set of goal posts, trying to settle a long-standing dispute over just who was the superior place kicker.

Across the field, two grown men sat on opposite sides of a picnic bench, trying to sort out the future of one of those boys. Derrick Williams might be a lousy place kicker, but he happens to be the most highly recruited high school football player in the country.

Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Rick Houchens, right, estimates that he has participated in nearly a thousand phone conversations about star recruit Derrick Williams over the past several years. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

_____Prized Recruit_____
Part 1: Eleanor Roosevelt's Derrick Williams is stepping carefully around scholarship offers and those who have offered them.
Part 2: Williams has surrounded himself with those that will best advise the decision for his future.
Part 3: The Internet has changed the recruiting process significantly in the past decade.
Part 4: Wins and losses hardly matter when it comes to evaluating prep football prospects.
Part 5: With all of the recent coaching changes in college football, Williams seeks stability with his school of choice.

_____Football Basics_____
Football page
Top 20
_____High School Basics_____
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League index

Rick Houchens -- Derrick's coach at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt -- and Dwight Williams -- Derrick's father -- quietly traded their latest thoughts on Derrick's crop of suitors, a topic they discuss at least three or four times a week.

Oklahoma had been giving ample playing time to freshman running back Adrian Peterson, and with Derrick wanting an immediate chance to shine next year, that was a good sign. Tennessee had two promising young quarterbacks and a third on the way, and with Derrick preparing to play wide receiver in college, that was good, too.

Florida's sophomore quarterback Chris Leak had been playing exceptionally well, and Dwight Williams thought his son could become Leak's favorite target next year, which was very good. But some rumors had Leak leaving for the NFL after next season, which might be bad.

Houchens noted that Florida State's coaches were calling him virtually every day, wanting to know when Derrick could come to Tallahassee for an official visit. As the conversation ended, the coach pledged to corner his teenage star the following morning and discuss the Florida State trip.

While Derrick Williams assembled his collection of more than 50 Division I scholarship offers over the spring and summer, he repeatedly said that an 18-year-old high school senior couldn't hope to navigate the maze of promises and choices by himself. And as his decision deadline of mid-to-late December approaches, his closest advisers have each established a niche.

Dwight Williams, the father, is the executive, drawing up the family's list of criteria, submitting to countless interviews with print reporters and Internet recruiting analysts and trying to catalogue Derrick's ever-changing registry of finalists: Tennessee in, Maryland out, Ohio State in, Southern California out, Florida up, Penn State down.

Derrick's older brother, Domonique, helps his father conduct background research on the prospective schools, on their offenses and depth charts, on their coaching staffs and practice schedules.

"You can consider my father to be an agent, if you can put it in those terms, and I'm pretty much his assistant," Domonique said, adding, only half-jokingly, that he and his father should offer classes to parents on how to make their way through the recruiting process.

Houchens, who estimated that he has participated in nearly a thousand phone conversations about Derrick Williams over the past several years, acts as an intermediary between the Williams family and the bevy of persistent college recruiters while helping the family determine which schools would best take advantage of Derrick's abilities. He advises the Williams family not to include loyalty and emotions in their calculus, "because if you do, you're not making a sound business decision, and this is ultimately a business decision -- it's all about the business of your future."

Mother Brinda Williams -- "the real leader," according to her husband -- worries less about the football minutiae and more about the big picture, looking at campus environments and diversity rates and urging Derrick to get his degree because "they can never take that away from you." She prays that the family will choose the correct school and recently recruited the members of her church choir to include her family and its upcoming decision in their prayers.

And Derrick? The 3.0 student rarely looks at his mail anymore and often avoids cell phone calls from unknown numbers because they're most likely from college coaches -- "when I get home, I don't answer that joint," he said.

Some weekends, Derrick joins his father for a few minutes as Dwight Williams analyzes Derrick's suitors on television. Some weekends, he doesn't.

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