Fourth in a series of occasional articles
Several hundred players on eight Maryland football teams will compete for state championships this week at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. Eleanor Roosevelt's Derrick Williams, widely regarded as one of the top football recruits in the country, won't be among them.
Despite having highly rated recruit Derrick Williams, shown playing quarterback, the Eleanor Roosevelt football team lost to C.H. Flowers in the Maryland 4A playoffs.
(Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)
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.
His high school career ended in a playoff loss to C.H. Flowers two weeks ago, his tear-stained face planted in a muddy field following a last-minute interception, his father's hand tapping lightly on his shoulder pads, every moment recorded by a closing ring of three video cameras.
So Derrick Williams's biggest football priority this week is a trip on Saturday to Magruder High School for a Capital Beltway League game featuring his 11-year-old cousin, Anthony Williams, and the rest of the P.G. Falcons, a team Derrick has helped train.
The nation's last two top-rated high school basketball players -- Dwight Howard last year and LeBron James the year before -- closed their high school careers with state championships, further enhancing their own reputations. High school baseball teams regularly ride one dominant pitcher to state titles -- right-handed phenom Homer Bailey, USA Today's 2004 high school baseball player of the year and a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, helped La Grange High win Texas state championships his freshman and senior seasons.
"It's harder with football, it's a hell of a lot harder," said Severna Park Coach J.P. Hines, whose team knocked off Eleanor Roosevelt in the first week of the season. "You have to have talent on both ends, and you have to have some luck, too."
College coaches and recruiting analysts agreed that there are more variables on a football field, more ways for a superstar to wind up his career as Williams did, on the wrong end of a six-point loss, his team done in by three turnovers and several special teams miscues.
Last year's highest-rated football recruit, current Oklahoma freshman running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Adrian Peterson, also could not carry his high school team past the first round of the postseason. But the wins and losses hardly matter, according to recruiting analysts and college coaches.
"If [Williams] was rated the number one prospect in the country off what he did last year, to me he's still the number one prospect in the country," said one college recruiter who asked not to be identified because of NCAA recruiting rules that prohibit college coaches from talking about high school prospects. "If he had broken his leg and didn't play at all, we'd still take him. His stats have nothing to do with it."
Football recruits, several coaches said, are judged by a different set of statistics: sprint times and weightlifting figures and leaping marks. These numbers are recorded not on torn-up grassy fields in the chaos of fall weekends but at tightly controlled offseason camps, where the 6-foot, 190-pound Williams -- who spent most of his senior season playing quarterback and cornerback -- built a reputation that eventually yielded more than 50 Division I scholarship offers.
"When you talk about recruiting, you're looking at raw numbers on his physical ability matched with what we've seen throughout his high school career, and also what his potential might be," said another recruiter. "He's probably had some of the better numbers anyone's ever had coming out of high school as far as his strength, his speed, his agility and his size, and you can't coach that. . . . I guarantee that every other school in the country that's offered him [a scholarship] feels the same way."
Few high school players would quibble with a senior season like Williams's: He rushed for more than 1,000 yards, passed for more than 800, snared two interceptions and played a part in more than 50 percent of Eleanor Roosevelt's touchdowns. Twice, Williams registered passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in the same game.
"I think he played phenomenal," said Suitland Coach Nick Lynch, whose team's only loss came when Williams spearheaded a fourth-quarter scoring drive in the teams' regular season finale. "I wish Derrick Williams the best, and I'm just glad he's graduating so I don't have to deal with him any more."
But several Washington area players put up numbers this season that rivaled or surpassed Williams's. Of the 47 area players who have recorded 1,000 yards rushing, 22 averaged more yards per carry than Williams. In 13 games, Northwest senior quarterback Ike Whitaker, who has orally committed to Virginia Tech, has accounted for 37 touchdowns, 13 more than Williams had in 11 games. Williams himself had more touchdowns and more total yards as a junior, when Eleanor Roosevelt advanced to the 4A state semifinals.