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Ryan Williams to leave Saraland a year early, says he is still committed to Alabama

Saraland’s Ryan Williams races in for a touchdown on a long pass from K.J. Lacey as Auburn coach Hugh Freeze looks on during Friday night’s Class 6A state championship game against Clay-Chalkville at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Helen Joyce/Call News)

 

By JIMMY WIGFIELD

SARALAND — Ryan Williams knew last spring he had done about all he could do in high school football but made pursuing another state championship with his Saraland teammates the most important thing in his life.

“And that,” Spartans coach Jeff Kelly said, “tells you everything you need to know about the young man Ryan is.”

What happened on the field the last two years and the five stars on his recruiting resume spoke of his generational talent and was the reason his coaches, teammates and family gathered in the Saraland High auditorium Monday morning to hear Williams announce he is reclassifying and leaving a year early.

Williams, the first sophomore to be named the state’s Mr. Football, also said he remains committed to Alabama and plans to sign on Feb. 9, his 17th  birthday, before graduating in May.

“It’s time,” he said. “After dominating at the high school level, I wanted to go through the whole season and make sure. … It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, playing the game you love. It was definitely a tough decision, giving up a year of high school football, especially with my amazing coaches and teammates I grew up with.”

Williams said he was already on track to graduate in December 2024 after what would have been his senior season and has all of his electives.

Williams was considered the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the nation in the 2025 class, the top prospect in Alabama and the No. 4 overall player in the country. After joining the 2024 class, Williams is now ranked the No. 12 prospect nationally, the No. 4 wide receiver in the country and the No. 2 prospect in Alabama, according to On3’s composite.

Between now and February, major programs will redouble their efforts to get Williams to flip his commitment to Alabama. Auburn assistant coaches Zac Etheridge, Mark Davis and Philip Montgomery were present for Monday’s announcement and Williams will take official visits there and to Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Texas before signing.

“I’m still going to enjoy the recruiting process,” said Williams, who emphasized his expectation is to start as a freshman wherever he goes.

“I want to try and make the plays I made at the high school level,” said Williams, who is going to play in the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 3.

Williams finished his Saraland career with a spectacular performance in the Spartans’ 31-28 upset loss to Clay-Chalkville Friday night in the Class 6A state championship game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He caught 11 passes for a Super 7-record 232 yards, including 63- and 77-yard touchdown bombs from K.J. Lacey, returned the second-half kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown and added a 2-yard TD run.

Williams’ father, Ryan Williams Sr., said his son told him beforehand his last game with Saraland would be one to remember.

“We were texting Friday morning,” Williams Sr. said. “Of course, we knew this was coming. Putting that red and silver on was coming to an end. He’s playing at Bryant-Denny. He woke up that morning and said, ‘I feel it. I’m about to go crazy.’ And I said, ‘I want to see this.’”

Williams finished his high school career with 4,568 yards of total offense and 74 touchdowns and scored on every four snaps. He had 198 receptions for 3,486 yards and 49 TDs despite frequent double teams and ran for 1,082 yards on 98 carries and 25 TDs.

There is no dispute that Williams is considered one of the greatest players in state history.

“The things he does as a receiver and a playmaker, you ask anybody in the state and they’d probably agree with that,” Kelly said. “He’s at a different level. Anybody who has coached or played against him would say that. The things he does on the field are awesome but the quality of person he is makes you appreciate him even more. He made it clear to me that he didn’t want this to be a distraction during the season. I love all our players and I love Ryan for who he is. If he and his family feel this is best for him, I support them 100 percent.”

Williams has worked diligently to become a complete receiver.

“I want to do all the simple things over and over until I get them right,” he said. “That’s all I’ve been doing, doing the ordinary things to make it extraordinary, and it’s paid off. I’ve worked hard to be better coming out of the break, coming out of cuts, and getting separation.”

But there is no separating Williams the player with Williams the human being. After Lacey was stopped at the 1-yard line on the last play Friday night, Williams immediately began seeking out his stunned teammates who were frozen in shock all over the field.

“Especially with what happened with K.J.,” Williams said. “I know he felt it the most. It was so close. I wanted to make sure they knew I had their back. I had to grieve another day. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t think about it. We played a really good game and they played a really good game. They finished it off and we didn’t.”

Williams was the first option on the final play with a fade to the back side but it wasn’t open, leaving Lacey to charge through an opening in the spread-out Cougars’ defense before being stopped at the 1.

“We’re all going to miss him but now it’s next man up,” said Lacey, who is committed to Texas. “He’s a really good friend and on the field he’s a really good teammate. But we’ll be all right. We’re still going to be good next year.”

Kelly is also looking ahead with anticipation.

“We’ve got a tremendous core group of guys coming back, a lot of football players who know how to win,” he said. “We’ve also got to replace some people and there will be a lot of chances for people to step up and keep doing what we have been doing.”

Williams’ mother Tiffany Coleman, stepmother Cortney Williams and grandmother Catherine Williams also attended the announcement.

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