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It’s back to work for Ryan Williams after signing with Alabama

Ryan Williams enjoys a happy moment with his family after signing with Alabama Wednesday. Going clockwise from the top left are his grandmother Catherine Williams, father Ryan Sr., stepmother Cortney Williams, Williams and his mother Tiffany Coleman. (Jimmy Wigfield/Call News)

 

SARALAND — Perhaps we should have known Ryan Williams wasn’t going to be an ordinary person all the way back when he was in kindergarten in Saraland.

His grandmother, Catherine Williams, pulled out a memory that could have foretold how he ended up on a stage at Saraland High School surrounded by his family on Wednesday and finally, officially, put his signature on a scholarship to play football for Alabama.

“When he started in kindergarten, the other students were eating pencils and chewing on crayons and Ryan was running errands for teachers,” she said.

He kept running straight into the state’s high school football history book, eating up defenses, always chewing on how he could get better and wielding an ink pen to start on a future brimming with promise.

Other than Julio Jones and Bryce Young, Crimson Tide fans haven’t been this excited over a prospect in decades.

“It feels great. Amazing. Fantastic. Outstanding. Beautiful. … It was a relief,” Williams said after he signed.

The only player to win the state’s Mr. Football award two years in a row and the greatest high school player in state history now goes to Tuscaloosa, where fans expect him to be even better and keep Alabama in contention for national championships.

That’s fine with him.

“I don’t think I’m going to worry about the expectations,” Williams said. “I hold myself to a higher standard than anyone else does.”

Four years from now — and God willing he stays healthy — he may need a truck to transport all his hardware.

“Lord willing, I’ll be getting ready for the NFL draft,” Williams said. “All-American, All-SEC, going for the Heisman Trophy too.”

This from a young man who will turn 17 on Friday but who proclaimed he wanted to be the best receiver in America when he was playing park ball and earning the nickname “Hollywood” instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Williams will succeed as much because of his intrinsic character as his phenomenal physical talent.

“I could go on and on talking to you about statistical things, catches and touchdowns,” Saraland coach Jeff Kelly said, “or being the only player to win back-to-back Mr. Footballs or being the only person in Alabama history to win Gatorade Player of the Year two years in a row. But I want to tell you about who he is. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve had the privilege to coach. He’s one of the best teammates I have ever witnessed. The conversations we had, above everything else, Ryan wanted to win. I’m super proud of who he is.”

Most players feel some pressure wherever they are. Williams feels only the desire to take the ball to the end zone.

“I’m ready for it to calm down now but I also know the task at hand,” Williams said. “I’m ready to work.”

Williams relishes carrying the hopes of a program of Alabama’s caliber — and make no mistake, the Tide would have been shaken to the core if Williams had opted for Auburn or Texas or Texas A&M once Nick Saban retired.

“There are going to be a lot of expectations placed on him,” Kelly said. “A lot of times, that’s a lot to put on a young kid. But knowing who he is, Ryan will dive right into it and embrace it. Nobody will have as high of an expectation of him as he does for himself. He will look forward to the challenge of competing against the guys at that level.”

Leading up to signing day, there seemed to be a chance Williams would go elsewhere when he decommitted from Alabama following Saban’s retirement. But he said Wednesday he never seriously considered such drastic action.

“Alabama was always on the top of the list,” he said. “It’s Alabama. I knew we were going to get somebody good.”

After meeting with new coach Kalen DeBoer, Williams fell in love with DeBoer’s offense and became the keystone in DeBoer’s first recruiting class, the player who gave him instant credibility in the eyes of fans and other recruits.

“It wasn’t easy, everybody pulling at me, everybody wanting a piece of me,” Williams said. “But it became easy once I talked to coach DeBoer and the staff. Coach DeBoer was confident in himself and he made me confident.”

Ironically, Williams watched the national championship game between Washington and Michigan with Kelly and his son Caden at Kelly’s home and what he saw left a lasting impression long before he knew he and DeBoer would cross paths.

“You look at their stats, throwing for 5,000 yards,” Williams said. “It’s the different ways they get their playmakers the ball. I was thinking I would love to play in that type of system. And now he’s going to be my coach. They’ve got a ‘feed the stud’ offense. I’m hungry.”

Kelly recalled Williams taking more than a cursory interest in the telecast that night.

“We got into a conversation about how cool Washington’s scheme was and what they do for the wide receivers,” Kelly said. “Then coach Saban goes to the beach and they hire coach DeBoer.”

Williams’ father, Big Ryan, said DeBoer’s offense is a proven success.

“It’s wide-open,” he said. “I feel like the offense will be even more of a weapon. When you cut the film on and look at it, it’s hard to go against it.”

Big Ryan, like his son, is glad recruiting is over — “Now the phone calls will slow down,” he said — but the quest for greatness is starting anew.

“I’m definitely proud of his high school career but it’s just one step,” his father said. “Now he’s got to earn everything again. It’s time to earn the next level of accolades.”

And working for what he gets might be the best of the many fine attributes Williams has.

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