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Ryan Williams makes history with second straight Mr. Football award

Saraland’s Ryan Williams (1) was virtually unstoppable the last two seasons, averaging a touchdown every four snaps. (Todd Stacey/Call News)

By JIMMY WIGFIELD

MONTGOMERY — Ryan Williams catapulted onto a rung of greatness no other high school football player in Alabama has ever achieved by being named Mr. Football for an unprecedented second straight year on Tuesday.

The Saraland five-star prospect, who recommitted to Alabama last week, led the Spartans to a 28-2 record the last two seasons with a Class 6A state championship in 2022 and a runner-up finish in 2023. He was the first sophomore to win Mr. Football last season and is the first player in state history to win it twice.

“I felt like I had just as good a chance as anyone,” Williams said afterward. “The work I put in on the field shows. It means a lot. It’s a privilege and an honor. I’m thankful for my family and my teammates.”

Williams originally committed to Alabama as a sophomore in October 2022, then decommitted shortly after coach Nick Saban announced his retirement.

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 reclassifying to the 2024 class in December, Williams is now ranked the No. 1 receiver in the nation in the ESPN 300 and is ranked the No. 5 prospect nationally and the No. 3 wide receiver nationally, according to On3’s latest composite.

When Williams was announced as the Class 6A Back of the Year over two of his closest friends, former Saraland teammate K.J. Lacey and Alabama signee Jaylen Mbakwe, it was all but assured he would make history as the only two-time Mr. Football winner. Moments later, he officially accepted the plaque signifying he is the best player among the 30,000 who played the sport in the state last season.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming in,” Spartans coach Jeff Kelly said. “There’s a ton of good players out there just in 6A. You look at what Ryan, Jaylen and K.J. have done, they’re three of the best. I’m super proud of the year K.J. had. He is super deserving. When you have outstanding young men who are also your best players and best leaders, it gives you a good chance to be successful. Repeating is a tremendous honor for Ryan.”

Lacey was happy for his former teammate.

“That’s two years in a row, a clean sweep,” Lacey said, adding Williams was also the Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama for two straight years.

Williams’ numbers in 2023 weren’t as good as they were in 2022 because he rarely played an entire game and Saraland had even more playmakers but his statistics were on a level most players can only dream of.

He led Class 6A in receiving yards (1,324) and touchdown catches (19) and had 72 receptions in all. He ran for 261 yards on 30 carries and seven TDs.

Williams — who reclassified as a senior in December — finished his high school career with 4,440 yards of total offense and 74 touchdowns and scored on average every four snaps. He had 187 receptions for 3,254 yards and 47 TDs despite frequent double teams and ran for 1,078 yards on 94 carries and 24 TDs.

 

‘I’ve got to make me happy’

 

After making history, the two-time Mr. Football winner turned his attention to his Alabama career. Williams said he still plans to sign on Feb. 9, his 17th birthday, graduate in May and report to Tuscaloosa afterward.

Williams is expected to make an immediate impact on the Crimson Tide and thrive in new coach Kalen DeBoer’s offense but he described the two weeks between the moment he decommitted and then recommitted to Alabama as a stressful, draining time he wanted to get through as fast as possible.

“At one point I found myself trying to make everyone happy,” Williams said. “But I’ve got to make me happy. It was exciting and action packed. It got crazy and I just wanted to shut it down. My phone never had time to charge. I wanted to pull the covers over my head and hide.”

He said he made up his mind during his official visit to Tuscaloosa on Jan. 19-20 after seeing how his siblings were made to feel special and treated like recruits too.

“Seeing them getting the same kind of love I got, it meant a lot,” Williams said. “I asked (UA) about it beforehand and they didn’t hesitate. … I knew where I wanted to be. It is one of the best decisions I made in my life.”

Williams said he told DeBoer he was staying with Alabama during his official visit.

“I pulled him into his office and said, ‘I’ve got to tell you something.’ He did a backflip,” Williams joked.

After giving DeBoer’s program instant credibility, Williams is now working to convince other top players to join the Tide.

His message: “If you don’t choose Alabama, you’re crazy. I don’t know what’s wrong with you. But it’s not for everybody.”

Williams said he is attracted to DeBoer’s schemes and the prospect of being utilized all over the field.

“The thing about coach DeBoer’s offense is I get to be able to do the same things I did in high school, play football the way I love to play it and not just be trapped at the X or Z position,” Williams said.

Williams plans to visit Alabama’s spring practice to get a head start on learning the offense.

“I want to try and understand it and not start out with a blank canvas,” he said. “I want to already have a little art on the canvas.”

Williams was stunned by Saban’s decision to retire but didn’t contemplate totally rejecting the Tide.

“It wasn’t that I thought they wouldn’t be as good without coach Saban,” he said. “It was the fact the guy who had been recruiting me through the entire process isn’t there. But I feel like either way, I was going to be that guy because of what I bring to the table on and off the field.”

Auburn coach Hugh Freeze tried relentlessly to get Williams to flip and Williams said Freeze didn’t accept the news well.

“I talked to coach Freeze,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t say it was cordial but he had to accept it. He wished me well.”

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