LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — He had just thrown for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns, and had rushed for 2 more scores. He had accounted for all 5 of his team’s touchdowns in a 3-point home-opening win.
And as most of his teammates jogged back into the locker room, a makeshift circle formed around Jarren Williams — Central Gwinnett High School’s star quarterback, and Kentucky’s coveted quarterback commitment.
Williams, whose name was chanted from the student section late in the fourth quarter, was now posing for pictures and catching up with his family at midfield.
“You’re a bad man,” Anthony Williams told his son.
The baddest play of all came just under the 12-minute mark in the fourth quarter with his team trailing 27-23. From the 10-yard line, Williams kept the ball on a read, but it looked like a mistake. There wasn’t a hole, that is, until a spin move threw off three tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Williams broke toward the sideline, left his feet with 3 yards to go, and dove over the pylon for the score.
Another rushing touchdown for Jarren Williams. His fourth score of the game. Big-time performance tonight. pic.twitter.com/0zoHKEXaCy
— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) August 26, 2017
Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford had seen it all before. A 5-touchdown performance that led to a comeback win wasn’t an extraordinary one for his quarterback, who has a goal to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in his senior season.
“That’s Jarren being Jarren,” Wofford said. “Against a really good defense. We don’t play any cupcakes. This is the biggest county in Georgia, the best teams in Georgia. There’s a couple guys that are supposedly better, but I don’t know if they play this type of schedule.”
The “guys” Wofford alluded to are some of the top quarterback prospects in the country. The class of 2018 quarterback group doesn’t have an even geographical spread when it comes to talent. One can stay inside Georgia’s borders and see four of the nation’s top-20 quarterback prospects.
First, there’s Justin Fields from Kennesaw, Ga. Fields, who’s yet to make a decision after de-committing from Penn State, is not only the nation’s top quarterback commitment, but the No. 1 overall prospect, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Then there’s Clemson commit Trevor Lawrence, the No. 2 quarterback in the class, from Cartersville, Ga. Ohio State commit Emory Jones, from Franklin, Ga., is the sixth-ranked quarterback in the class.
And then there’s Williams, the 18th-ranked quarterback in the 247Sports composite rankings.
“They’re great quarterbacks,” Jarren said. “But I feel like I’m right up there with them.”
Wofford said it’s “splitting hairs” when it comes to choosing one over the other, but he made sure to point out that only Williams is playing 7A football — the state’s highest classification. Fields is in 6A, Lawrence in 4A and Jones in 2A.
“State champions always come through Gwinnett County,” Wofford said. “That’s the difference to me. I don’t think the kid gets enough credit not only for what he does, but who he’s doing it against. That team last week had four D-1 defensive linemen. Who else goes against that? This corner out here who he threw 330 (yards) on, that kid got an Oklahoma offer.”
Anthony Williams, to no surprise, believes his son is the top quarterback in the state. Fields and Lawrence have the 5-star label, but Anthony Williams isn’t fond of the rankings. Rivals.com has Lawrence and Fields as the first- and second-best prospects in the nation. Jarren Williams didn’t crack the top-250.
“When that ranking came out, kids around here who’ve played against Jarren, they laughed at that,” Anthony Williams said.
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Getting people to laugh is one of Jarren Williams’ specialties. The 4-star quarterback describes himself as a comedian.
“He really has a great personality, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my son,” Shetelle Williams said. “People just gravitate to him.”
That much was evident. Williams, a captain, led prayer with his team after practice Thursday and was in the front line of stretches Friday.
“Watching Tom Brady, the greats, that’s one quality they all had is leadership,” Jarren said. “If I want to be at that level, that’s something I’m going to have to master.”
Along with Brady, Peyton Manning and Deshaun Watson are among his favorite quarterbacks. As for his all-time favorite? That distinction goes to the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. Williams considers himself a pocket passer, but said he turns into a running back when plays break down.
Williams has already become the leader of Kentucky’s 2018 class. He was not only the Wildcats’ first commitment in the class, but he’s remained their most treasured ever since. Kentucky clung hard to Williams, but it looked like he was going to slip away as a truckload of offers rolled in.
Williams first committed in June 2016 when he was a relatively unknown prospect. But then South Carolina offered, then Miami, then Mississippi State and Missouri. Tennessee, LSU, Florida and Alabama were next in line.
On April 24, Kentucky’s prized prospect tweeted that he was de-committing and opening up his recruitment. Williams said he de-committed out of respect. He thought it would be a bad look for him, being the face of the class, to take official visits while he was still committed to Kentucky.
“It was very difficult having to call Coach Stoops and telling him that, because our relationship is so strong,” Jarren said. “I let him know that Kentucky was at the top of my list and I explained to him why I de-committed. Coach Stoops is a great guy, a great person, so he understood. He had my back the whole way.”
With his de-commitment came doubt.
“It felt like I was missing something,” Jarren said. “Kentucky, they’re like my family.”
He called Mark Stoops on May 15, but this time it was good news for Kentucky. He was recommitting less than a month after his de-commitment.
Williams will graduate in December, leaving Stoops and staff with a few months to hold on.
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Williams says he’s firmly committed to Kentucky, but if the door on his recruitment is shut, it might not be locked.
“There are some schools that still text me,” he said. “I do listen to them, but right now I’m going to Kentucky.”
If the Cats have any enemies in the race to secure Williams’ signature, it might be LSU and South Carolina. Those are the two schools still in contact with him. Florida, Florida State, Alabama and Tennessee talked to him during his de-commitment stage, but have since backed off.
He knows performances like the one he logged Friday night are only going to raise his stock, “but I’m pretty much set on where I want to go,” Williams said.
“We’d be a fool not to listen,” Anthony Williams said of other schools. “Anyone that wants to talk to us about Jarren, we’ll listen. But he’s solid with Kentucky. That’s where he wants to play.”
Shetelle Williams said her son’s heart is “set on Kentucky.”
Jarren plans on coming to as many Kentucky home games as he can. It’s a six-hour drive up I-75 from Lawrenceville to Lexington. The Wildcats open their season Saturday at Southern Miss before their Sept. 9 home opener against Eastern Kentucky.
Williams is closest with quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw, but said Stoops, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow all played a key role in his recruitment.
Kentucky made its first bowl appearance since 2010 last season, but it was an upset win at Louisville in the regular-season finale that stuck in Jarren’s mind. He praised Stoops for what he’s done for the program, and said he expects “big things” this year.
“I am paying attention this season,” Jarren said. “I’m not saying if they’re bad, I’m going to leave. I’m not saying that, but I am watching them this year.”
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Maybe Williams and Kentucky were always a natural fit.
His name isn’t as well-known as players like Fields and Lawrence, but he’s OK with that. The school he chose doesn’t have the biggest name either.
“The Alabamas, the Floridas, that doesn’t really trip me up at all,” Williams said. “I just look at a school where I can feel comfortable at, and where I can trust the coaches … That’s why I chose Kentucky.”