Saraland five-star receiver Ryan Williams’ vote of confidence in new Alabama coach Kaleb DeBoer immediately stabilized what had been a shaken fan base and program. (John O’Dell/Call News)
SARALAND — The life-defining decision of where to play college football and his future beyond was hanging over Ryan Williams like three defensive backs tearing at his jersey on a post pattern.
But Williams shook all that off and made the big play — as he always does — when he recommitted to Alabama late Wednesday afternoon, setting recruiting websites afire and settling the stomachs of a roiling Tide fan base, which was fretting that new coach Kalen DeBoer might hemorrhage more talent than he signed in his first few weeks.
Williams’ recommitment was an enormous victory and a badly needed vote of confidence for the freshly minted coach and there is some sentiment the watershed decision could lead to more top-shelf talent lining up behind DeBoer, as it did for Nick Saban when Julio Jones signed with Alabama in 2008.
Williams — the highest-ranked recruit in the Tide’s 2024 class — is expected to make an immediate impact at wide receiver, as Jones did, and is considered an all-time talent in another atmosphere, as were Jones, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Jameson Williams, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley.
Williams’ decision to end his recruiting and cancel a planned official visit to Auburn on Feb. 3 also slammed the door on the fingers of Hugh Freeze, who had flipped Foley wide receiver Perry Thompson and Williams’ Saraland teammate, defensive lineman Antonio Coleman, from the Tide while Saban was still the coach. Getting Williams to also change his mind would have had profound consequences on both programs.
The day before Williams recommitted to the Tide, there was a tinge of weariness on his face and in his voice. With the seemingly endless phone calls and pleas from others for him to bend to their will, there was a sense the fun of recruiting had faded for the nation’s highest-ranked unsigned prospect.
“I’m ready for it to be over,” Williams said Tuesday of his looming choice between Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.
Remember, please, the modern college game expects teenagers — even those as precocious as Williams — to make monumental decisions about their education, finances and professional career that will affect them and their families for the rest of their lives. The weight on their shoulders is incalculable.
Earlier Tuesday, Williams spoke of Texas being the most stable of the finalists. A few hours later, he cancelled his planned official visit there this weekend. But the cancellation was an act of maturity, not immaturity or indecision.
Williams, who isn’t a frivolous person, doesn’t want to waste his or anybody else’s time. These days, five-star players changing their minds once they’re at a school and transferring is too common, like a quickie divorce.
Williams doesn’t want to do that. He wants to make a solid decision and honor it.
“I’d like to make sure,” he said. “I’d like to dive deeper into the decision and make sure it’s what I want to do.”
Before Saban retired, Williams was sure Alabama was where he wanted to go. He committed to the Tide in October 2022 as a sophomore.
“It was definitely Alabama if coach Saban had stayed,” Williams said.
But Williams said he didn’t feel misled.
“No, it’s part of life,” he said. “Things don’t always go as planned.”
Williams said he spoke with Saban after he announced his retirement and Saban tried to reassure him riding with the Tide was still the best choice.
“He told me Alabama is still going to be Alabama,” Williams said.
To be sure of that — in the midst of Tide fans panicking over not just the loss of Saban but several high-profile recruits — Williams made two trips to Tuscaloosa last week to meet DeBoer, one on his own and the other on his official visit. He came away impressed with DeBoer, his vision and what he told Williams his role in the offense would be.
“I was in Birmingham at a track meet and I took it into my hands,” Williams said of the first meeting. “I called and asked if he was available to meet and he said, ‘Of course.’”
For DeBoer, that was rather like having the sun ask him if he wanted to see it burn away the clouds after a week of rain.
“He’s very down to earth, just a good human being,” Williams said of DeBoer, who toured Mobile-area high schools and met with coaches Monday. “I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about him. He has a great record — he’s lost only 12 games.”
Williams said he likes the way DeBoer envisions his role in the offense and schemes that will make it tougher to double team him.
“He wants me to come in and be the guy, like the other schools,” Williams said. “I’d play the same role I did (at Saraland) with the diversity. I’d get to do the same things I did in high school — the slot, outside, stacking, getting my hands on the ball in the running game. It would be a lot of similarities to here.”
Williams absorbed the first serious criticisms of his short but fabled career when he decommitted from Alabama shortly after Saban said he was retiring but said it didn’t affect him or cause resentment.
“I knew it was coming,” Williams said. “It’s my decision, it’s my life and I’m going to live it.”
Saraland coach Jeff Kelly said on Tuesday the decision would be made with the greatest of care.
“Ryan has done a very good job throughout this process of learning about each program and getting to know the coaches,” Kelly said. “He has been very thoughtful in his approach. Recruiting can be fun at times and also stressful at times going through what it takes to make the right decision. Many factors like the (transfer) portal and retiring coaches can make it even tougher at times. His family has been there with him through this process and I think he is getting closer to making a decision.”
Williams said Tuesday he would have a good idea of which school he would choose after the planned Texas visit this weekend. Then he cancelled that trip. Less than 24 hours later, he recommitted to Alabama.
“There’s been a lot of coaching changes this cycle,” Williams said. “Most everybody who was recruiting me a month ago aren’t recruiting me now.”
He said stability in a program is one of the most important factors in his decision.
“It’s definitely something I look at,” Williams said. “I don’t want to walk into a death trap.”
DeBoer — i.e., Alabama — apparently offers more stability than Auburn and Texas A&M.
Williams said the top three factors in his decision are, in order of importance:
“One, winning,” Williams said. “Two, the family feeling. You’ve got to want to go to your job. You don’t want it to be, ‘I’ve gotta go to practice.’ You want it to be, ‘I want to go to practice.’ Then three, the stability of the team.”
Williams said he doesn’t think one school gives him a better chance than the others to develop into a high NFL draft choice.
“All of them will give me a good shot,” he said. “They’re all SEC schools, they’re all going to play in the big games. … Alabama made it to the second-to-last game. It would be building the program up at A&M and Auburn.”
He’s also building his brand. Last weekend, Williams announced on social media he would be a collaborative partner with Manhattan Clothing, although he said Tuesday it was not an NIL deal connected to any school.
Williams acknowledged NIL money is a part of his decision but he downplayed its importance to him.
“It’s definitely something to talk about but it’s not the end all and be all,” he said. “It’s the next step. The real money is at the next stage.”
Williams likes looking ahead. For one, he doesn’t need to look back because he’s a lot faster than everybody else. Years ago, he knew he wanted to be the best receiver in America and he said so.
I think he got his heart and his mind to come together like a football settling into his hands and now the rest will be history for one of the greatest football players and human beings to ever come from this state.