By JIMMY WIGFIELD
MONTGOMERY — Saraland’s Ryan Williams made history by becoming the first sophomore to be selected the state’s Mr. Football Thursday but after the pomp and photos and chicken and macaroni and cheese for lunch had been cleared away in the Renaissance Hotel ballroom, he knew how he was going to celebrate.
His father, Ryan Sr., asked if he still planned on working out later in the day after a three-hour drive back to Saraland in a winter squall.
“Yes, you know it,” was the reply.
And that, along with his epochal talent, is why Williams — rated the nation’s No. 25 recruit in the Class of 2025 by 247Sports.com — is already one of the country’s most decorated college prospects and is the best player among the 30,000 who played the sport in Alabama in 2022.
“It’s surreal,” Williams said, “not just being the first sophomore to do it but to even have a chance to win Mr. Football.”
Maybe that’s because many 15-year-olds are worried mostly about pimples on their face and are driven only to get their driver’s license. But Williams is so uncommonly mature, he said he will not repeat the mistakes he made in the seventh grade — yes, the seventh grade — which ingrained in him the desire for the constant toil greatness requires.
“I know the harder you work, it will all pay off,” he said. “I know what happens when you don’t work. I’ve been on the other end of that when I was in the seventh grade. I didn’t have a great season because I didn’t put the work in. I played up but I didn’t play up to my expectations. So, I’m going to put as much work into it as I can and whatever happens after that, I will accept. … I said I wanted to set a legacy and I feel like I’m doing that.”
That legacy is not only being recorded by mind-twisting statistics but by his example.
Moments after Williams tucked the Mr. Football plaque under his arm, Spartans coach Jeff Kelly said: “He’s probably thinking about what tomorrow’s workout looks like for him. He loves the Monday and Tuesday workouts just as much as the Friday nights.”
Williams (6-1, 175), who has committed to Alabama, finished the 2022 season with 2,387 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns, scored an average of every three times he touched the ball, averaged 16 yards per play and had 18 TDs in the playoffs as the Spartans swept to the Class 6A state championship.
A year after being moved from quarterback to wide receiver, Williams led the state with 87 catches for 1,641 yards and 24 TDs, ran for 700 yards and 15 TDs, returned two punts for scores and threw a touchdown pass.
“I wasn’t too big on moving at first because I played quarterback all my life,” he said. “But now I love it. It’s something how things can change in such a short amount of time.”
About as quickly as Williams can reach his full, elite stride, which shrinks time.
“By the time he graduates — and there are a lot of unknowns — he’s definitely on track to be one of the best players to come out of our state in a long time,” Kelly said. “Ryan is at his best in the big moments, the big games. He’s got so much flexibility in what he can do, whether it’s at wide receiver or running the ball or returning punts. If we put him on defense, he’d probably be one of the best DBs around. He has unbelievable God-given ability.”
If he continues performing at his 2022 levels for the next two years, Williams is on a pace to set state records for career yards per carry, receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
“His work on the field speaks for itself,” Kelly said, “but he’s one of the hardest-working dudes I’ve ever been around. He’s also the kind of guy you want to root for because he does all the things the right way. He’s got a great family and he’s a humble leader in the locker room and a tremendous teammate.”
Williams joined four exclusive clubs on Thursday. He was the 41st Mr. Football and Class 6A Back of the Year in Alabama, is among only 15 of 37 Gatorade Alabama Players of the Year to have also won Mr. Football and was named a first-team sophomore All-American by MaxPreps.
The first player to win both Mr. Football and the Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year was Vigor running back Darrell “Lectron” Williams in 1988 and the other Mobile-area players to win both include Leroy quarterback Clint Moseley (2008), Foley wide receiver Julio Jones (2007) and Williamson quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2002).
With two years remaining in his high school career, Williams has a chance to surpass each of those all-time luminaries by winning multiple Mr. Footballs.
“I try not to focus on the expectations, just focus on ball,” Williams said.
But asked who he thinks will win Mr. Football next year, he grinned and replied: “God willing, I plan on winning it again.”
He won’t do it by propping up his winged feet and watching highlights of his landmark season.
“Ryan is super grateful and we understand what a huge honor this is — there is so much tradition and history surrounding Mr. Football,” Kelly said. “But this ended that today. Now it’s back to training his body to improve.”
The Alabama Sports Writers Association Mr. Football banquet is presented by ALFA Insurance and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association.