Running back Justin Williams (Dallas, Ga./East Paulding) is handling his recruitment much like he does a rushing attempt in a game. He has the vision and confidence to be patient and when the opportunity arrises to get going upfield, he takes advantage.
The 6-foot, 200-pound, three-star back began picking up offers last October, but has been in no rush to dive into the recruiting process. Arkansas, Louisville, Nebraska and Tennessee offered last year. Michigan State, Minnesota, West Virginia, Princeton, Kansas State and North Carolina State all offered before USC extended an offer in mid-April.
It was a big one for Williams.
“That’s a blessing; USC is a top-tier program,” Williams said, adding a reference to Reggie Bush, which is consistent for high school running backs offered by the Trojans. “He’s one of the best running backs to come through college football.”
USC’s connection to Williams was made through offensive quality control analyst Dane Stevens, who is from Georgia and has helped the Trojans recruit the state. Williams said Stevens passed along his film to running back coach Mike Jinks, who told Williams to stay patient as the Trojans went through the evaluation process. The offer eventually came.
Though USC is across the country and more local SEC schools produce plenty of talented running backs, Williams said USC is a school he always thought about when the recruiting process started for him.
“I didn’t overthink it, but USC is a top-tier program,” he said. “It’s a blessing to get an offer from a school like that. I always dreamed about that.”
While Williams remains open to all schools at this point, he’s quickly set up a busy official visit schedule for June. He’ll take trips to Nebraska, West Virginia and Louisville the first three weekends of the month and then plans to be in Los Angeles on June 25.
Williams said the facilities will be one of the things he’s looking for, but ultimately what he’s looking for on these visits is that hard-to-describe feeling.
“I want to go to a place that feels like home, a place that feels genuine to me,” Williams said. “You know how you get that gut feeling. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
One thing he does know is that he’s unlikely to make a commitment following these visits or anytime in the near future. He would like to take as much time as possible with the decision, and more schools have been in contact with him as well, including Arizona State, Auburn, Georgia, North Carolina and others.
The influx of offers and attention is understandable. It’s difficult to find a weakness in Williams’ game. As a junior, Williams rushed for 1,477 yards, had 286 receiving yards and scored 19 touchdowns. He said Jinks rattled off a few attributes he liked about his game when making the offer, including vision, speed and power, and Williams has confidence in those aspects as well.
“I have pretty good vision,” Williams said as part of a self-evaluation of his playing style. “I can find a tiny hole and get through it. I’m pretty strong and can break tackles and pick up yards after contact. And I have speed. Once I hit the sideline, I won’t be getting caught.”
His versatility as a runner and receiver has Williams looking for a spread offense where he can take advantage of those abilities in a somewhat balanced offense where the running backs can get the ball in multiple ways.
Williams would like to go the pre-med route in college. He has his sights set on being an anesthesiologist after his football career is over.
“It’s something I have a passion for,” Williams said. “I’m really good at math and chemistry.”
Going that academic route sets Williams apart from many other high school recruits, as does his background. While he’s technically a Georgia recruit, Williams considers himself a New Yorker. He moved to Georgia when he was six, but returns to New York every summer and says that city is in his blood.
That might give USC an advantage when it comes the culture shock that can sometimes happen when trying to pull a player out of the southeast to Los Angeles.
“I’m used to the city,” Williams said. “That’s not too much of a problem for me.”
Running back will be a position to watch for USC in this 2022 class. The Trojans will lose Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai and Quincy Jountti following the 2021 season and could find themselves without Keaontay Ingram as well if he has a big season and decides to leave after his fourth year in college. That would leave only Kenan Christon and Brandon Campbell as scholarship running backs, meaning multiple backs in this class — either high school prospects or transfer portal additions — might be required.
Williams, 6-foot, 217-pound TreVonte’ Citizen (Lake Charles, La./Lake Charles College Prep) and 6-foot-1, 230-pound Tomarion Harden (Inglewood, Calif./Inglewood) are three big backs with USC offers. Four-star Jovantae Barnes (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) is a major target, along with five-star Gavin Sawchuk (Littleton, Colo./Valor Christian). And then local products in five-star Oklahoma commit Raleek Brown (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) and four-star Rayshon Luke (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) are targets as well.
California’s spring season was definitely going to result in some new offers and recruiting targets for the Trojans, as soon as USC coaches were able to get some game film of these local players in their sophomore and junior seasons.
Another offer came on Monday, with outside linebacker/defensive end Kevonte Fatutoa Henry (Lawndale, Calif./Leuzinger) grabbing one from USC. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound two-way standout plays running back as well, and shows impressive athleticism there, but it’s on the defensive side where he’s being increasingly chased by schools.
Arizona, Michigan, USC and Utah all offered him on Monday and Arizona State offered earlier this month. Fatutoa-Henry has a non-stop motor on defense and shows great agility to get around the edge on a pass rush.
USC is getting on top of local offensive line recruiting and the Trojans made an early offer to 2024 offensive tackle DeAndre Carter (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei).
The 6-foot-4, 340-pound freshman has a chance to be a good one and USC is looking to shore that pipeline into Mater Dei back up after it looked shaky for a bit. Signing Kyron Ware-Hudson and Raesjon Davis in the 2021 class and getting a commitment from Domani Jackson in the 2022 class is great. USC still has its sights set on linebacker David Bailey and wide receiver C.J. Williams, among others in the 2022 class.
A couple of defensive line targets went in different directions. Four-star defensive end Zac Swanson (Phoenix/Brophy Prep) announced his commitment to Texas, and Illinois State transfer defensive tackle John Ridgeway is headed to Arkansas. Both had USC offers.
The offer to Ridgeway is interesting because USC already brought in Alabama defensive tackle transfer Ishmael Sopsher this offseason. But losing Brandon Pili for the year to a torn achilles might have the Trojans looking for more reinforcements there. Tennessee 2021 defensive tackle signee KaTron Evans, a four-star prospect in this most recent class, has been let out of his NLI with the Volunteers. USC was among his final schools before he committed to Tennessee. There is a relationship with the coaches and it’ll be interesting to see if the Trojans make a run at him.