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July 1, 2008

Interest skyrockets for Williams

De'Antwan Williams wanted to say something, but words failed him as he grappled with the reality that one of the nation's most visible college coaches was indeed talking to him.

So for the first 15 minutes of his phone conversation in the spring with Nick Saban, Williams gave up trying to speak and simply listened as Saban pitched the University of Alabama.

And there was plenty to take in.

Even though this was the first time he had ever talked with Williams, Saban made sure the Woodbridge High School junior understood this was no courtesy call.

A masterful recruiter who landed the top-ranked recruiting class in 2008, Saban got right to the point, offering Williams a scholarship. From there, Saban talked about Alabama before tossing in one final attention-grabber: Saban told Williams he reminded him of Ricky Williams, the all-pro running back Saban coached in Miami.

Williams eventually collected himself enough to make it a two-way conversation that lasted a good 35 minutes with Saban, but there was no doubt he was star struck.

"For the first 15 minutes, I wasn't sure what to say back," said Williams, who wears No. 34 in part because of Ricky Williams. "It shocked me."

This is a kid who doesn't get fazed by much, on or off the field.

He's been a headliner since his freshman year when he rushed for the first of his three-straight 1,000-plus yard seasons. He knows he's the go-to guy, but thrives on carrying a team on his shoulders.

Nor does he get flustered when say, his cell phone is stolen, which happened in late May, while he was working out in the Woodbridge weight room. He wasn't happy about it, since it was the second time during his high school career that it had happened, but he dealt with it.

The talk with Saban, though, rattled him a bit. He'd received mail from Alabama so he knew they were interested in him. But this interested?

"I had no clue they were serious," Williams said. "I figured they could get whoever they want."

While Williams was already a Division I prospect coming into his junior season, his profile expanded a great deal in the national recruiting circles after leading Woodbridge to the Group AAA Division 6 state championship game in December.

In the state semifinals against Hermitage, Williams set a new Group AAA state playoff record with 34 carries. He also rushed for 245 yards and five touchdowns in the 42-27 victory.

In the state final against Westfield, Williams rushed for 129 yards on 20 carries and scored both Woodbridge touchdowns in a 42-14 loss. He finished the season with 2,249 yards and 26 touchdowns and was named a first-team all-state player.

Williams' ability to hit the hole hard, bowl over would-be tacklers and then sprint toward the end zone has always been one of his strengths. But following his postseason performances, people noticed him even more.

He attended a photo shoot in the spring in Georgetown that was put together by national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

Recruiting sites rank the 5-foot-7, 202-pound Williams as one of the top 10 players in Virginia for the class of 2009. Nationally, Rivals.com lists Williams as the No. 120 player overall for 2009, the No. 1 best inside runner and the No. 12 overall running back.

College interest, meanwhile, continues to come in. Williams holds 14 scholarship offers from Alabama, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Boston College, Rutgers, West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Marshall, Liberty and James Madison.

Williams has kept a level head about all the attention he's received as he tries and figures out what school offers him the best opportunity to play as soon as possible, as well as what they offer academically.

But it's been an interesting ride so far.

The Ricky Williams' angle was repeated to Williams by Dave Wannstedt, the University of Pittsburgh head coach who also coached Ricky Williams in Miami.

There was also the day when Williams decided to check his MySpace page after a long hiatus and discovered that University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier had left a message on Williams' site, asking if Williams had any interest in the Gamecocks. If he did, Spurrier left a phone number for Williams to call him, which Williams followed up on.

Keith King, Williams' head coach at Woodbridge, has counseled his young star to look at a number of factors in determining a school.

"It needs to fit his needs," King said. "He doesn't need to get caught up in the prestige."

King has emphasized to Williams that he get to know not just the recruiter, but the school's running backs coach as well.

In some cases, Williams' main recruiter has been both like in the case of Virginia's Anthony Poindexter or West Virginia's Chris Beatty.

"This is someone you are going to be around for four years," King said.

Williams is not leaning toward one school yet over another.

Virginia was the first school to offer Williams back in the winter, while Maryland is the school Williams has visited the most (seven times).

Williams plans to take unofficial visits to West Virginia this weekend and Boston College and Alabama next month. The Alabama visit is scheduled for the weekend of July 20th. The Crimson Tide will be hosting a camp that weekend, but Williams said he is only going to see the school and will not participate in the camp.

King would like to see Williams make a decision before the season starts to avoid any distractions and Williams agrees with that. But if it takes longer than that, Williams is prepared to hold off.

Meanwhile, he continues to sort through all his options. He keeps his recruiting mail in the trunk of his car and his offer letters wrapped in a rubber band on top of his dresser at home. The rest of the time he adopts a wait-and-see approach, balancing his summer schedule with work and weight-lifting as he narrows down his college wish list.

"It's been busy, but it's something I've always dreamed about," Williams said. "I like it. It doesn't bother me."


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