From Down Under to the top of many college football programs' recruiting boards?
That's the journey 6-foot-3, 310-pound Arizona Western Junior College DT Jesse Williams is taking right now. Williams, from Brisbane, Australia, didn't even start playing football until he was a teenager. Now, he has an offer list of 25 that includes Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, UCLA, Arkansas and Mississippi State, and is continuing to grow.
"He's just one of those guys," Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick said. "Jesse has those athletic legs. He has a big upper body and can really run. He has quick feet and bench presses over 500 pounds. Jesse is a freak."
It was almost an accident that Williams even started playing football. Basketball was his main sport and he also played rugby. "American football" wasn't even really on his radar.
"Some friends egged me on to play football when I was 15," Williams said. "I fell in love with the game. My friends saw my size and speed in basketball and I guess I was a little too physical. Rugby taught me tackling and basketball gave me the footwork. I fit in well from the beginning because I had speed, size and athleticism. I started by just playing and finding the ball. I have slowly progressed."
Slowly progressed? That's an understatement. It only took a year of playing before he had a scholarship offer.
"Some Hawaii coaches came to Australia to run a football clinic," Williams said. "While the clinic was going on I was the playing in a national tournament and was named the MVP. They saw me and one thing led to another. So I verbally committed to Hawaii when I was 16."
But the NCAA clearing house said he was missing an English and math class in high school. But instead of taking the year off to get his academics in order and then go to Hawaii, Williams decided to play junior college ball. He landed at Arizona Western because Minnick and some of the AWJC coaches were teaching a clinic in Australia and saw him play in a national exhibition game against New Zealand. It didn't take long for them to ask him to play for Arizona Western.
"Jesse is a great kid. He's the first one on the field and the last one to leave," Minnick said. "He has learned a lot here. Being in a U.S. program a year now he has learned how to practice. That's the main thing. In Australia they only practiced two days a week. Now it's all the time and he knows how to stay healthy, eat right, and get his body ready for a full season. Now he's been through spring ball. Jesse knows he knows what to expect now and we are expecting a dominating season."
"When the Alabama coach called me I thought he was joking," Williams said. "It was coach [Nick] Saban. Sometimes I really can't believe what has happened to me."
So far, Williams has been fairly quiet about the recruiting process. The biggest reason? He doesn't know any better. Remember, he doesn't know Roll Tide from Rocky Top from Woo Pig Sooie. He is not familiar with the elite programs or the passion, the history and tradition of college football. The game and the major players involved are still somewhat foreign to him, but he's using that to his advantage.
"Not knowing a lot about the [recruiting] process and college football has really helped me out," Williams said. ""While it's a great process it's different for me. I just want to take this great opportunity and make the most of it. I want to have fun as well. It's all up to me and I am not listening to other people."
He has set up one official visit and that's to Alabama in early September. Williams, 19, plans on graduating Arizona Western in December and enrolling to his new college in January. For now, he just wants to have a great fall on the football field.
"I am just concentrating on camp and this season. I am sure in the next few months I will figure it all out," Williams said. "This is all overwhelming to me. I never thought I would do this well. It's nice, positive attention. I just want to stay level headed. I want to play good football and stay healthy."
A sleeper from Long Island
For every player like Williams -- who is on everyone's wish list -- there are hundreds of players who are just fighting for their chance. They are the sleeper prospects, and finding them are one of the perks of the job.
Case in point: Niv Sultan from Long Island (N.Y) Hewlett High School. Have you heard of him?
Probably not. Sultan is a defensive line prospect who is just beginning to understand how to play the game and realize his potential.
"Niv is 6-4 and 253 pounds," Hewlett coach Jay Iaquinta said. "He's raw but he has so many physical tools. He runs 4.8 (40-yard dash) and verticals 32 inches. I brought him to some combines and he put up some fantastic numbers. He understands leverage and the ability to play with strength. Niv is a very good athlete that just needs to learn and understand the nuances of the game."
While he was an all-county selection as a sophomore, he spent his junior season overseas. Sultan's parents, both of whom were born and raised in Israel, moved their family back to Israel. And his older sister, Shiran, spent her freshman year at Tel Aviv University, just 20 minutes away from their home in Hod Hasharon.
"It was great because all my family is there," Sultan said. "I got to see where my parents were from. Israel is a great place. I got to play football there. I played in a league mainly with 22 year olds. There were enough Americans to teach and coach them. But the game is so new there. In the end, I wanted to come back [to the U.S.]. This is what I am used to."
Sultan can move so well for a big man that Iaquinta said he could play middle linebacker this season. He runs well, is smart and can make all the calls needed, according to his coach. And that move would suit Sultan just fine.
"I would love to play linebacker," Sultan said. "I would be able to take more of a leadership role on the field and be involved in every play. I should really have a standout year. For my size I am quick and fast. I react well and know tendencies because I watch film."
Still, it's not easy getting colleges to notice you, especially when you spend your junior year overseas. But things started happening to Sultan this summer as a few schools discovered him at their respective camps.
"Syracuse had a camp in the Bronx and Niv really did well," Iaquinta said. "They offered from that camp. UConn offered. Harvard said he's their top defensive line recruit this season. This kid can play."
Those schools, along with Princeton, make up Sultan's short list. He scored a 2150 out of 2400 on the SAT and he has close to a 4.0 grade point average.
"I am very happy with my options. I get to play football and get a great education. I just want to see where I am the most comfortable," he said. "I never thought this would be possible because I was never anything special. I grew into my body and figured out the game."
Notre Dame has big weekend
The Fighting Irish closed out the month of July with a recruiting bang, landing three commitments on Friday and one more on Saturday. The two big ones were defensive linemen from the Sunshine State in Anthony Rabasa (Miami/Columbus) and Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast). Both are four-star recruits and members of the ESPNU 150.
Not only are these elite recruits, but they fill huge needs in the defensive line for coach Brian Kelly. Notre Dame wants to get faster, more athletic and dominate the game in the trenches. The Fighting Irish have a third defensive-end recruit from the state of Florida in four-star Clay Burton (Venice, Fla./Venice), who committed earlier this summer. This is a good sign for Notre Dame; it has had its troubles landing elite defensive line prospects.
On Friday, Kelly and company also landed four-star running back Justice Hayes (Grand Blanc, Mich./Grand Blanc) and three-star cornerback Jalen Brown (Irving, Texas/MacArthur). Notre Dame now has 16 commitments.
The state of Alabama
It always seems that when either Alabama or Auburn pick up a commitment, the other school will follow suit. It happened again this weekend. First, the Crimson Tide scored a top recruit from the Buckeye State for the second time this recruiting season when Under Armour All-American and ESPNU 150 member Trey DePriest (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) committed to the Tide. Their most recent commitment was from West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West center Ryan Kelly. DePriest, who committed on Friday to Alabama over Ohio State, is the nation's No. 2-rated outside linebacker prospect.
LSU's loss is Tennessee gain?
Teams will often over-sign players expecting that a prospect or two will not qualify academically. But what happens when everyone makes it? That was the case with LSU and the Tigers' 2010 recruiting class. Les Miles and LSU signed 27 players on national signing day and all 27 academically qualified -- this means that two players would not have scholarships available to them.
Offensive guard Elliot Porter (Marrero, La./Archbishop Shaw) was asked to grayshirt (wait until the second semester to enroll, rather than in the fall). Instead, Porter has asked for his release and he could be on his way to Tennessee. Volunteers coach Derek Dooley is very familiar with Porter from his days at Louisiana Tech. Several teams have contacted Porter, but he could elect to stay at LSU. It's expected that he will make a decision by the end of the week.
A recruiting coordinator at a BCS program told me last night that, while he and his coaching staff were out of the office last month on vacation (as many staffs will do in the month of July), a third of their recruiting board had committed to other schools. They had offered close to 150 prospects and 53 committed during the time they were out. It's mind-boggling how accelerated the entire recruiting process has become.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.