First in an occasional series
The white cordless phone rang at midnight, right on schedule, and everyone in the room looked at Derrick Williams.
Hey Coach Lilly, how you doing? Good, good. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
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.
The most sought-after high school football player in the country laughed once, twice, and continued chatting with Florida State's recruiting coordinator. Briefly. Within seconds, another call interrupted their conversation and Williams clicked to the other line, leaving the assistant from Florida State on hold. Now he was talking to an assistant from the University of Florida.
Hello, hello? Hey, hey. Nothing, just chillin'. Yes, sir.
Williams, an 18-year-old senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, can play quarterback, wide receiver, slot back, cornerback, safety, punt returner and kick returner. His test scores and grades -- better than a 3.0 average -- make him eligible for NCAA competition, and he is in position to graduate this December and enroll in college by January, in time for spring practices. He is 6 feet tall, weighs 190 pounds, can bench press 185 pounds 18 times and has run the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds. He has received scholarship offers from the top 18 teams in the country.
"Every college in America, he's the number one guy on their list right now," said an assistant coach at one Division I program who asked not to be identified because NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking publicly about potential recruits.
Being the nation's No. 1 player guarantees Williams neither a professional contract nor an endorsement deal. Dwight Howard, last year's top-ranked high school basketball player, earned a three-year, $11.2 million contract with the Orlando Magic. Matt Bush, a high school senior chosen No. 1 in June's Major League Baseball draft, earned a $3.15 million signing bonus from the San Diego Padres.
But in May, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling preserved the NFL policy mandating that high school players wait three years before becoming professionals, and so the best high school football player in the country is bombarded with less liquid returns: hundreds of Internet hits and Internet rumors; boxes filled with flashy brochures and earnest letters from virtually every Division I school in the country; and phone calls, endless phone calls, from reporters and recruiting analysts and college coaches.
Which is why, just a few moments after midnight on Sept. 1 -- the first day college coaches are permitted to call recruits -- Williams toggled back and forth between recruiters, each trying to prove just how important Williams is to their team.
Hey coach, hey, how you doin'? Just lyin' around right now. It's going real well. Can you hold on? Hold on.
Williams's father, Dwight, sat on the couch next to Derrick in the family's four-bedroom Upper Marlboro home. Mother Brinda was upstairs, getting ready for bed. Godfather Donald Murphy, who spent a preseason with the Washington Redskins in 1977, was perched on a nearby easy chair. A late-night dating show played silently on the television, four women desperately striving to win the attention of one young man.
Coach Lilly, uh, that was Florida.
Williams clicked back and forth several more times, talking to Florida Coach Ron Zook in addition to the assistants. As other schools signaled their interest via call waiting, he gestured helplessly to his father, who said, "I know, I know," and soon told Derrick to end his conversations and get to bed.