Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Arkansas Razorbacks recruiting notebook. In this edition, we look back on the recruitment of a graduate transfer running back David Williams.
David Williams envisioned Fayetteville as a ‘one-stoplight town’
David Williams had already found a home by the time Arkansas coach Bret Bielema reached out to him last May about joining the Razorbacks.
The graduate transfer from South Carolina committed to Connecticut last January. He’d spent more than three months with every intention of enrolling and starting at running back for the Huskies this season.
The call from Bielema made him hesitate. He wondered if continuing his playing days in the SEC would be more beneficial to his NFL prospects. But he also wondered if life in Arkansas had much of anything to offer.
“First call I was talking to Coach [Bielema] or whatever and I was thinking, ‘Arkansas, Arkansas? I can’t imagine. I feel like it’s country and it’s one stoplight in the town,'” Williams told reporters last week.
“But when I came on my visit, I was surprised what they had to offer.”
That trip came in early June and Williams officially flipped his commitment two weeks later. He arrived on campus soon after and has already impressed his coaches and teammates. He’s expected to be the backup to Devwah Whaley, a talented sophomore Williams has cherished competing with for carries.
“I just sat down with my family and I thought I would challenge myself,” Williams said. “I knew if I went to UConn, I would start right away with no competition. So, I thought I would come out here and see where I stand with the best of the best.”
David Williams needed a ‘fresh start’
Things simple didn’t work out at South Carolina. He spent a portion of last August atop the Gamecocks’ depth chart, only to find himself in coach Will Muschamp’s doghouse before the season even began.
Williams received no carries in three games last season. He was healthy, but the coaching staff simply opted to leave him on the bench. Only once in 12 regular-season games was he given double-digit carries.
Still, he had some good moments. He rushed for 67 yards on 7 carries (9.6 average per carry) against East Carolina. A week after not carrying the ball against Georgia, he rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries against Massachusetts. Those bright spots proved to Williams, a 4-star recruit from Philadelphia in the 2013 class, he had the talent to become an impact player at the FBS level.
“Me and Coach Muschamp just didn’t see eye to eye,” Williams said. “He didn’t recruit me. I was one who coach [Steve] Spurrier recruited, so I understand it was business or whatever, but I just felt I needed a fresh start.”
So, he graduated and looked to spend his final year of eligibility elsewhere. The book closed on his South Carolina career with 794 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Williams has now found a coach who did recruit him coming out of high school — Bielema. Arkansas’ coach pursued him while still at Wisconsin in 2012, less than a year before he would arrive in Fayetteville.
“We had a good relationship,” Williams said of Bielema. “I think the only reason I didn’t go to Wisconsin was they were taking one running back. They were recruiting me hard and Corey Clement real hard. Corey just happened to commit before I did.”
Loss of one grad transfer possibly helped Arkansas bring in David Williams
When National Signing Day came and went last February, Arkansas knew it wasn’t done recruiting additional players for the 2017 season. Bielema and his staff had left open the possibility for a graduate transfer to be added.
For a couple months, the top priority to fill that spot was defensive tackle Scott Pagano. The Clemson graduate was considered the top defensive player on the grad transfer market last spring.
Pagano had Arkansas among his final choices. It was a destination that made sense for both parties. Pagano could work closely with a defensive line coach who had recently been in the NFL — first-year assistant John Scott Jr. And the Hogs needed added depth and talent on the defensive front.
It didn’t pan out. Scott canceled his visit to Fayetteville in late March and committed to Oregon, where he is now enrolled, two weeks later. Missing out on Pagano seemed significant at the time, but it may have been a blessing in disguise.
Arkansas starting running back Rawleigh Williams III abruptly retired from football at the end of spring practice in late April. Reserve back Juan Day graduated and chose to transfer in mid-May. Suddenly, the Hogs were projected to have just three scholarship running backs for the 2017 season — Whaley and true freshmen Maleek Williams and Chase Hayden.
Arkansas then reached out to David Williams and things worked out from there. But had Pagano pledged to the Razorbacks, it’s possible there wouldn’t have been room for the running back.
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