There are late bloomers on the recruiting trail, and then there’s the case of offensive lineman Christian Williams.
He didn’t pick up his first college offer until the end of his junior season at Thurgood Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas, and it was from Louisiana College. Not the University of Louisiana, but Louisiana College, a Baptist college located in Pineville, Louisiana, that has since changed its name to Louisiana Christian University. The school plays football at the NAIA level and has less than 1,000 total students
A lot has happened since then. Last June, Billy Napier and the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns offered him. And now, less than a year later, he’s preparing to begin his career as a Florida Gator. He was the only Louisiana commit that Napier brought with him to Gainesville.
Typically, when a powerhouse program like Florida offers a lower-ranked player, it starts a domino effect, and a bunch of other major programs will start pulling the trigger. That never happened with Williams. He entered the December signing day with only those three offers.
So, Napier and his staff were literally the only Division 1 coaches who believed in Williams, and they did so at two different schools.
Williams is grateful for the trust that the coaches have placed in him, and he vows to not let them down.
“They trusted me to go to UL and play for them, so, when [Napier] had left for Florida, he was like, ‘Well, I still want you as one of my pieces on my board,’” Williams said. “I was happy that he chose me.
“It feels great just knowing that he actually believes in me and trusts me with the opportunity to play for him and show him everything that I’ve got. I can’t let him down.”
That moment five days before signing day when Napier informed him that he had an offer to UF was the next step in a football journey that began when Williams was a small child.
His parents signed him up for Pop Warner football when he was 4 years old, and he played on both lines of scrimmage up until high school. His father is a huge football fan, and he would often have college games on the televisions in his barber shop. So, Christian became familiar with elite programs such as Alabama and Texas A&M at a very young age.
While earning a scholarship to a school like UF is a tremendous accomplishment, it wasn’t the end goal when he first started playing. He just wanted to have fun with his friends, and that childlike love for the game is what kept him going.
“It was that childhood love for the game always,” he said. “You’re just happy to go out there and play on those Saturday mornings, go to practices. Even though practice was every day, but you still have fun with all your friends. It was the dream.”
It wasn’t until he got to Marshall High School and started working with offensive line coach Edwin Harrison that he began to realize that he might have a future in the sport. Harrison is a former Colorado offensive lineman who played six seasons in the Canadian Football League. He recently left Marshall to become the running backs coach for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
Williams considers Harrison to be a powerful mentor in his life.
“He inspired me a lot, just from when I got there because I transferred my ninth-grade year,” he said. “So, just him being able to mold me to who I am now, put me in a position where I am now, I can’t thank him enough.”
Williams helped lead Marshall to the state championship game as a sophomore, but they lost by three points. He used coming up that short of a championship as motivation for his final two years of high school.
While the Buffalos failed to make it to the championship game again, Williams will carry his hunger for a championship over to UF.
“It was something that I had never seen before coming from such a small school that I did,” Williams said. “I knew from then and there that I wanted to take it serious so I could get back there. I never did, but I’ve still got dreams to go win some kind of championship.”
Williams received his scholarship offer from Louisiana after he attended a camp there last June. It was a no-brainer to commit there because it was his only major scholarship offer and because of the close proximity to home, but he also was impressed with the way that the coaches made him feel at home on his campus tour.
“Just the way that I felt invited,” he said. “It was the hospitality there. I felt like everybody knew my name even though I had just got there. It was something that I could see myself going into. I’m happy that all the people who were at UL are going to Florida.
“I feel like they’re kind of like the mellow kind of recruiters. They’re not just pressuring you into something that you don’t want to do, but they are going to stay in touch with you during that process. They make sure that they speak to you. They make sure that they stay in contact with you, checking up on you every day, holidays.”
It might seem like an easy decision to go from the Ragin’ Cajuns to the Gators if you have a chance. At Florida, you’re competing for national championships. At Louisiana, you’re competing to be ranked in the top-25 and play in the New Orleans Bowl.
However, Williams admits that there was some hesitation on his end initially. It’s more than a 13-hour drive from Missouri City, which is in the Houston area, to Gainesville. He won’t be able to go home any time he needs something, and his family might not be able to come to every game.
In the end, though, the opportunity to play in the SEC was something that he simply couldn’t turn down.
Though he didn’t receive his first Division 1 offer until after his junior year, his head coach at Marshall, James Williams (no relation), said that the coaches knew that he was a special player from the moment he first stepped onto the practice field.
“You have strong kids in the weight room, but, sometimes, it doesn’t translate to the practice field,” James Williams said. “The way he moved and the way he practiced every day … he stepped out and separated himself right away.”
Gators fans probably hadn’t heard of Williams before he committed shortly before signing day. He’s the lowest-ranked of the three high school offensive linemen in the class and one of the lowest-ranked signees overall.
Williams has seen some of the social media skepticism about whether he can play at this level, and he’s determined to prove those people wrong.
“I’ve seen some of the things that were said, and I can understand,” he said. “I would feel the same way if I was a diehard fan of a team, but I feel like it’s also a driver to me because I feel like I have to show them that I can do this.”
James Williams said that he thinks Williams was overlooked because he didn’t go to a bunch of camps and compete against all of the four- and five-star guys. He wasn’t in the public spotlight as much as many of the higher-ranked players, but James Williams believes that he is every bit as good of a player as some of those guys with a bunch of stars next to their names.
“I really believe in him,” he said. “I really believe in his future, and Florida’s getting a very good player with a chip on his shoulder.”
Christian Williams is excited about the way that he’ll fit into the Gators’ offense. He believes that they’ll be a run-first team, which fits right into what he does best. He’s 6-foot-4, and he weighed around 330 pounds at one point during his senior year. He’s down into the low-300s now. Williams considers his physicality and low pad level to be his biggest strengths, but he needs to work on some of the fundamentals surrounding hand placement and footwork.
“A lot of running and obvious check downs and throws down the field but mainly a more running kind of offense,” he said. “Just being able to pound the ball, low and move, having the stamina to be able to stay up. I feel like me just fitting into that will be very well because I’m an inside O-Lineman. So, me being able to just sit in the middle and move everybody in front of me, along with my counterparts who’s going to be on the line with me, I feel like I can be pretty good at it.
“I feel like I can be pretty low to the ground, being able to use my leverage against the other team. That’s another reason why I feel like I’m so good at moving people or just objects out of the way.”
He primarily played right guard in high school. If that holds true at UF, he’ll get a chance to learn from O’Cyrus Torrence this fall. Torrence played at Louisiana for three seasons and was named All-Sun Belt after the last two campaigns. He’s considered a potential All-American type of player.
Williams seems to have a similar skillset as Torrence, which should make these next one or two years an invaluable learning opportunity for him.
He isn’t going to put any expectations on himself as a freshman other than to give maximum effort all of the time.
“I’m ready to work, and whatever comes out of it comes out of it, and whatever doesn’t doesn’t,” Williams said. “I’m there to give it my full 100 percent.”
James Williams believes that Christian could also play left guard or center if needed in college because of how knowledgeable he is about the game.
“He’s not just a mauler out there running around, but he actually understands the game,” he said. “He understands defensive fronts. He understands working double teams. He was with some very good coaches who really prepared him for this opportunity.
“He knows the intricate parts of playing offensive line and the ins and outs and working with his teammates. I think that allowed him to grade out very, very high every game. He was definitely in the 90th [or higher] percentile every game.”
James Williams also said that the Gators can expect Christian to be a hard-working guy who brings good energy to the locker room.
“He’s the type of kid that’s never going to miss a day,” he said. “He’s always in the weight room, always at practice, doing the extra. He’s a leader. He’s an alpha. He’s very aggressive. Fun kid, though. He’s loud. When he’s in the room, you know because his laugh is loud, his voice is loud, but he’s a fun kid.”
The last year has been a wild ride for Williams. Last May, he thought he was going to be getting ready to play NAIA football in front of about 2,000 fans per game this fall. Instead, he’s only about four months away from running out of the tunnel in the Swamp in front of 90,000 fans.
Williams is determined to reward his family, coaches and friends for their belief in him and their dedication to helping him make that day possible.
“It’s the people who were around me, the people who supported me and everything that they’ve given to me and everything that they’ve put into me becoming a better person, a better football player, making sure that I make it to practices, making sure that I stay out of trouble,” Williams said.
“I can’t let them down. I can’t. So, those are the things that just keep me going every single day.”