Caleb Williams, dedicated to a future in football since he was little, has long been a coveted quarterback. Coming out of middle school at St. Pius X in Bowie, he had offers to play for most of the top private high school programs in the Washington area, plus plenty of others, including IMG Academy in Florida.
He and his family evaluated every inch of every option. They chose Gonzaga, moved into a Northwest Washington apartment overlooking the Eagles’ football field and shifted their focus to maximizing Williams’s high school career.
The process moves to its next stage Saturday, when Williams, a rising senior, intends to announce his commitment to Oklahoma, Maryland or LSU. It’s the end of a recruitment that has been as intense as it looked at the beginning, the quintessential high-stakes pursuit of a prototypical five-star quarterback.
“I think he’s done a great job, for a teenager,” Williams’s father, Carl, said last week. “I don’t know how many adults would handle all of this.”
Williams may be the most-hyped recruit the Washington area has produced. In the history of 247sports.com’s composite rankings, which go back to 2000, Williams is tied for 102nd among all recruits, ahead of Jelani Jenkins (Good Counsel), Stefon Diggs (Good Counsel) and Chase Young (DeMatha). Just five prospects from the Washington area rank higher, and only one (Ballou’s Marvin Austin) played in the District.
|54||Derrick Williams||Eleanor Roosevelt||2005||WR||0.9986||Penn State|
|82||Marvin Austin||Ballou||2007||DT||0.9979||North Carolina|
|117||Jelani Jenkins||Good Counsel||2009||LB||0.9971||Florida|
|127||Stefon Diggs||Good Counsel||2012||WR||0.9969||Maryland|
|176||Chase Young||DeMatha||2017||DE||0.9957||Ohio State|
|180||Derrick Harvey||Eleanor Roosevelt||2004||DE||0.9956||Florida|
Add in the fact that Williams plays the game’s most important position, and his world has been in the spotlight for three years. Against tough defenses in the rugged Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, Williams was named first-team All-Met as a sophomore and a junior. This past season he threw for 1,770 yards and 19 touchdowns and ran for 838 yards and 18 scores.
His stock may continue to rise. He ranks fourth in 247sports.com’s composite rankings — a combination of the ratings at 247sports.com (seventh), ESPN.com (15th) and Rivals.com (third). This week, he is competing in Nashville at the Elite 11 finals, a gathering of the country’s top prep quarterback prospects. Steve Wiltfong, 247sports.com’s director of recruiting, said Williams could emerge as the site’s No. 1 prospect.
“He certainly has the traits and the arm talent and the ability to break teams down with his legs and be a threat in that regard,” Wiltfong said. “He plays in a tremendous high school football league, so he’s tested most weeks. The sky’s the limit for him. We’ll see what happens for him on the next level, but coming into it, he’s an exciting prospect, for sure.”
Williams and his father have had a methodical approach to their quest of finding the school with the best chance of developing him into the No. 1 pick of the 2024 NFL draft. It started with a spreadsheet weighing four categories for each college: academics, athletics, preparation and intangibles.
Carl Williams said the top seven schools were separated by only a point and a half in his analysis. Caleb cut his list of schools to five (Oklahoma, Maryland, LSU, Clemson and Penn State) on March 23 and to three May 4. By the time he whittled his list, he had visited his top five schools, plus Alabama, Oregon, Georgia and others.
Of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic altered even the best-laid plans. Stay-at-home orders have wiped out much of the recruiting calendar, so Williams’s last visit was to Oklahoma on March 5. He hasn’t had the chance to take any official visits, and he may not before signing.
“I’ve said this to everybody: It’s hard to get married over the phone or over Zoom,” Carl Williams said. “You really want to see a person face-to-face.”
Given the focus of the recruiting process on NFL draft preparation, Oklahoma has long seemed the front-runner for Williams. Sooners Coach Lincoln Riley has the best track record in college football of developing quarterbacks, having groomed the No. 1 draft picks in 2018 (Baker Mayfield) and 2019 (Kyler Murray). In Riley’s five seasons as head coach (three with Mayfield, one with Murray and one with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts), his quarterbacks have completed 70 percent of their passes, with more than 10 yards per attempt and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5.36-1.
LSU made its pitch in 2019, when Joe Burrow’s electric season resulted in the Heisman Trophy and the No. 1 draft pick this spring. But the Tigers’ appeal may have taken a hit when passing game coordinator Joe Brady left to be the offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
“College football is so fluid, so as the coaches changed — and the biggest one was at LSU — that really had an impact on us,” Carl Williams said.
The wild card is Maryland, which has burst onto the recruiting scene under Coach Michael Locksley. In December, the Terrapins signed St. John’s wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, the fourth-highest-rated recruit in program history. Williams’s relationship with Oklahoma goes back further, but especially given pandemic-related uncertainty, he could decide on a local option. He promised Maryland the last word in the recruiting process, and his family spoke with Terps coaches Saturday afternoon.
When Williams announces his decision, he expects it to be final. The most sought-after young quarterback in the District, who became the most sought-after prep quarterback in America, will finally have a destination.