TideIllustrated - Jameson Williams already off to a fast start at Alabama
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Jameson Williams already off to a fast start at Alabama

Jameson Williams had no choice but to be fast. Growing up in a family of track stars, it was the only way he could keep up.

Williams’ mother, Tianna, and father, James Sr., met on the track team at Sumner High School in St. Louis. Tianna used to race against the boys during practice, while James Sr. went on to run at Abilene Christian University.

Williams’ older brother, James Jr., ran track at Northwest Missouri State while his older sister, Ja’Ianna ran at Wayland Baptist. His younger brother, Jaden, is currently running track at Western Texas College. That collection of speed led to a few unofficial meets in the neighborhood parking lot.

“When Jameson was a little kid, he’d always want to race his big brother and big sister,” James Sr. said. “He’d always try to race them to the car from the store. It wasn’t very competitive then because they were a lot bigger than he was, but that never stopped him from giving his all.”

It didn’t take long for that to change.

By the time Williams reached the fourth grade, he was already starting to pass his 15-year-old sister. Ten years later, he’s doing the same thing to Division I defenders.

Williams flashed his elite speed during his Alabama debut last weekend as he gashed an experienced Miami secondary for a team-high 126 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. The bulk of that production came on a 94-yard score that saw him blow past a pair of Hurricane defenders untouched into the end zone on what is tied for the second-longest passing touchdown in Crimson Tide history.

After joining Alabama from Ohio State this summer, Williams is looking to unleash his big-play ability several more times this season — especially after having it bottled up over the past two years.

Alabama Crimson Tide receiver Jameson Williams runs in a 94-yard touchdown against Miami. Photo | Getty Images
Alabama Crimson Tide receiver Jameson Williams runs in a 94-yard touchdown against Miami. Photo | Getty Images

Fast off the blocks 

All of James Sr.’s children are fast, so when his second son started showing off the family’s signature trait, it didn’t come as a surprise. Still, there was something special about what Williams could do on a football field.

The first time James Sr. really knew his son had a future in the sport came during a rainy day on a muddy St. Louis youth field. Then 11 years old, Williams had broken his arm during a game three weeks earlier. Although, that didn’t stop him from pleading his way back onto the field, arm cast and all.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the safest idea for James Sr. to send his kid out on the field with access to only one of his arms. Then again, it didn’t really matter as defenders had a hard time laying a finger on Williams that day.

“He was out there playing with a full arm cast on,” James Sr. recalled. “He was at running back taking one-handed handoffs and running them in for touchdowns. No one could catch him. He scored like three touchdowns in the mud.”

Williams’ playmaking ability followed him throughout his childhood. So did his desire to win.

During his junior year at Cardinal Ritter College Prep, his track team lost its other star sprinter, Hasani Barr, to a season-ending injury. Originally, the plan was for Barr to run the 200-meter as well as the 400-meter while Williams handled the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles.

However, when the state finals rolled around Williams filled in, competing in all four races to help Cardinal Ritter collect enough points to earn its first title in 20 years. Despite having to run the races back-to-back, the speedster won the state titles in both the 300-meter hurdles and the 400-meter while taking second in the 200-meter.

Williams’ title in the 300-meter hurdles saw him defend his state crown. During his sophomore year, he posted a blistering 37.28 time, breaking the state record previously held by current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. That mark still stands as Missouri’s top time in the event.

While he’s best known now for his speed, Williams’ hurdling ability is the stuff of legends at Cardinal Ritter. His most memorable leap occurred on the football field during the season-opening game of his senior season.

Fielding a safety punt near his own 40-yard line, Williams broke to his right before finding a would-be tackler waiting for him near midfield. Without breaking his stride, the track star hurdled the standing defender en route to the end zone.

Technically, the touchdown didn’t count as MSHSAA rules require the ball to be blown dead at the spot of the hurdle. Although, that didn’t make the play any less spectacular to the stunned crowd in attendance.

“One of my coaches looked at me, and I had just got back to coaching,” former Cardinal Ritter head coach Brandon Gregory recalled. “My assistant was like, ‘Coach, are we just going to act like we didn’t see what just happened?’ It was amazing because the kid was standing and Jameson hurdled him like nothing.”

Passing the baton

Derrick Miller has been serving as Williams’ speed coach since the receiver’s seventh-grade year. Following Williams’ success, the coach is no longer shocked when his protégé posts record-breaking times on the track or breaks big gains on the football field. What gets him is how humble the star athlete has been able to remain throughout the process.

“To be such a talented young man, he roots for everyone,” Miller said. “He’s not intimidated by someone else’s talent. He’s comfortable within his own. From a personality standpoint, his teammates always love him.”

Williams’ selflessness was best displayed during his senior year of high school. Presented with the opportunity to defend his crown in the 300-meter hurdles a second time, he elected to bow out of the race in order to give his younger brother Jaden a chance at tasting glory.

Sure enough, Jaden lived up to his side of the bargain, crossing the finishing line first to ensure that the state crown remained in the family for a third consecutive year.

Despite being the focal point of Cardinal Ritter’s offense, Williams also made sure his teammates were well taken care of on the football field. While most star receivers campaign for more targets, he would often be seen pointing out capable playmakers to his offensive coordinator on the sidelines.

“You would think as talented as he is, he would be selfish,” Gregory said. “He doesn’t mind running plays to open things up for his teammates. He makes it easier on his fellow receivers, but he also opened the run game. The teams we were playing against were just backing off and giving him that cushion by taking people out of the box. It really allowed us to move the ball on the ground because the other team was so concentrated on him blowing the top off the roof.”

Jameson Williams. Photo | Getty Images
Jameson Williams. Photo | Getty Images

Clearing a hurdle

If it were up to James Sr., his son’s Alabama debut would have come two seasons ago. During the recruiting process, the father favored the Crimson Tide, taking particular appreciation of Nick Saban’s honest, no-nonsense approach.

“He was never one of the ones pulling Jameson’s chain,” James Sr. recalled. “When we sat in his office, he was one of the only coaches who I heard criticize Jameson and critique what he needed to work on to be a great player. And then, honestly, I just felt Jameson fit their mold.”

While Williams was drawing comparisons to Ted Ginn Jr., James. Sr. always envisioned his son fitting the mold of DeVonta Smith or Henry Ruggs III due to how Alabama highlighted their speed in its wide-open offense. However, when it came time for Williams to make his own decision, he elected to join fellow Rivals100 receiver Garrett Wilson to form an equally formidable receiving corps alongside Chris Olave in Columbus, Ohio.

At first, that seemed like a sound decision. Despite recording just six receptions as a freshman in 2019, Williams’ team-leading 18.67 yards per catch appeared to hint at a breakout sophomore campaign. However, topping the team in that stat again last season was a bit less exciting as his 17.11-yards-per-catch average came on just nine receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

It wasn’t that Williams struggled at Ohio State. He started six of the Buckeyes’ eight games last season, including the Sugar Bowl, where he recorded three receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown against Clemson, and the national championship game, where he tallied a 14-yard grab against Alabama. Although, more often than not his elite speed was used to help open space for Olave and Wilson as the duo began to rack up receptions as well as recognition from scouts.

While Williams has never had a problem contributing to team success, he began to see his own NFL aspirations wither away.

“When we started this venture, part of the plan was he wanted to get his degree, and he wanted to be a first-round pick,” James Sr. said. “You start looking around and, yeah you’re in the starting lineup, but you are only thrown the ball 13 times all season. Then you look around at your teammates and they are getting over 50 balls.”

Following Ohio State’s spring camp, Williams grew more frustrated as his role appeared set to decrease due to the emergence of sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Seeing the writing on the wall, the junior entered the transfer portal on April 28. Five days later, he announced his decision to join Alabama.

A second wind

Williams’ phone rang relentlessly during his brief stint in the portal, but once Saban came calling, the receiver’s mind was made up.

“To be honest, Alabama was, I would say, my second choice behind Ohio State,” Williams explained earlier this week. “But I made a decision to go to Ohio State. Things didn’t work out well with me, so I ended up in the transfer portal and you see what happened. I just ended up at Alabama playing for Coach Saban. At the end of the day, they say ‘Good things always come back.’”

Alabama’s recruiting pitch to Williams this spring revolved around need. Despite adding four Rivals100 receivers in this year’s recruiting class, the Tide was still short of its usual horsepower after losing four first-round picks at the position over the past two years.

Saban emphasized the need several times during the offseason, stating that “speed kills on the football field.” His newest addition heard the message loud and clear. From there, Williams went back to work.

Before arriving at Alabama in July, Williams spent the summer fine-tuning his speed with Miller back in Missouri. There, the two worked three times a week, focusing on stride frequency, explosion and multi-directional speed as the receiver trained with a noticeable chip on his shoulder.

“When you talk about Alabama, you’re talking about the standard,” Miller said. “You just had two guys go in the first round at receiver, so you’ve got a lot to live up to. It’s like you run faster with faster horses. So I think for him when he went to Alabama he knew that he had to turn it up a notch. He’s one of those guys who has the ability to add to that and keep getting stronger and faster. I think he’s got another gear faster than he is now.”

Alabama Crimson Tide receivers Jameson Williams (1) and John Metchie III (8). Photo | Getty Images
Alabama Crimson Tide receivers Jameson Williams (1) and John Metchie III (8). Photo | Getty Images

Full stride 

Gregory hurriedly unpacked boxes last weekend as he helped his mother move during Alabama’s opener against Miami. The head coach was able to catch glimpses of his former receiver on his phone early in the game but wasn’t able to make it back to his own living room until halftime.

Fortunately, Williams saved his biggest highlight for the third quarter. With Alabama facing a third-and-5 from its own 6-yard line the receiver beat his man off the line of scrimmage, allowing quarterback Bryce Young to find him for a wide-open pass at the 40-yard line. From there, Williams turned on the jets, leaving the Hurricanes’ secondary in his afterburners while causing his former head coach to lose his mind.

According to Alabama director of sports science Matt Rhea, Williams was clocked at 23 miles per hour during the 94-yard touchdown. For perspective, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert was the fastest recorded player in the NFL last season, reaching 23.09 mph on an 80-yard run against the New York Jets.

“The biggest thing I liked was that he just looked comfortable,” Gregory said of Williams. “He looked like he did when he played for us. The things that he was doing for Alabama were similar to what I had seen him do here, and you could tell he was happy. That just made me happy with him.”

Williams confirmed his comfort level this week, stating Alabama’s receiving corps already feels like family.

“I feel like me and the guys fit in well,” he said. “We became brothers quick. The first day I got here, we all linked up. Everybody showed me love, and everybody showed me love when they seen I committed to Bama on Instagram. Everything was pretty much simple. We just had to go to work.”

After making a strong first impression last week, Williams will look to formally introduce himself to Tide fans as Alabama hosts Mercer on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT for its home opener inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Now that he’s back to feeling like his old self, it shouldn’t take long for the receiver to settle into his new digs.

“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” Miller said. “I really don’t think that you guys have seen all that I know he can do. He’s definitely going to be one of the top wide receivers in the country. You’re just seeing a glimpse of what he can do.”