Notre Dame football recruiting: Berrien star offered by ND

South Bend Tribune

Jhonny Williams has embraced the benefits of being a late bloomer.

Not many outside of Berrien Springs knew about the three-sport athlete a year ago. Just this past summer he was an unheralded football prospect visiting a camp for the first time at Michigan State.

Then one Sunday, Berrien Springs head coach Bill Bergan’s phone started receiving calls from MAC schools wanting to know more about his explosive defensive end.

“It was just one after the other,” Bergan said. “I was like, 'What is going on?' He just had an outstanding camp.”

Williams gave a verbal commitment to Toledo, but an offer and visit to Missouri in late September swayed the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Williams to commit to a football future in the SEC. He refused to slow down and finished his senior season with 69 tackles — 15 for a loss — 12.5 sacks, two fumbles forced and recovered and a blocked punt.

The attention hadn’t ceased. With coaching staffs evaluating senior film in November in search of more targets, Williams jumped off the screen.

“The numbers he had strength-wise, speed-wise, basically the combine numbers, are pretty impressive,” Bergan said. “Once you saw what he did on film, it was like 'Oh boy, this is going to get crazy.’”

The craziness began in earnest last week when Notre Dame offered on Wednesday and Michigan followed suit on Thursday. The two winningest programs in college football wanted a shot at the lengthy defensive end that claims a 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash.

"I'll remember those days for a long time, especially the Notre Dame offer,” Williams said this week.

He’s since nailed down plans to use an official visit for Notre Dame’s final home game on Saturday against BYU. While Bergan anticipated the recent attention, Williams expected his recruitment to be over as a Missouri commit. The offer extended by Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin through Bergan was the first contact from the Irish that Williams knew of. He says he hadn’t even received any recruiting mail from Notre Dame.

“I think my highlight got out and my numbers and stats,” Williams said. “I guess I'm kind of a late bloomer because of basketball and things like that. I just got to a camp this summer. It took awhile, but better late than never.”

Williams’ slow but steady rise as a football player started when he first joined the Berrien Springs team as a sophomore. New to the sport, it took Williams nearly two seasons to start to fulfill his potential, Bergan said.

“He thought he was going to be a basketball player until his sophomore year and probably even through then,” Bergan said. “It was a process — a growing process, a maturation process — he had to go through. The whole time through he kind of bought into our weight-lifting program, so he's always been a strong, explosive kid. Then he fell in love with the game even more as it went on.”

By the end of his junior season, Williams transformed into a terror on the edge of the defensive line.

"He didn't understand the discipline of the different things and how everyone's depending on him to do his job,” Bergan said. “Once he got that concept, he was able to use his natural abilities with his explosiveness. He's just tenacious. He runs stuff down. He takes it head on. He dominated the last three games his junior year.”

Williams rates as a three-star prospect according to Rivals and 247Sports, but could be a candidate for a boost in the rankings in postseason updates. Rivals ranked him as the No. 18 prospect for 2014 in Michigan before his senior season. 247Sports slated him as the No. 36 strongside defensive end and No. 15 in the state.

The delay didn’t water down the meaning of the Notre Dame offer in Williams’ eyes. Attending a high school roughly 25 miles northwest of Notre Dame Stadium comes with a community filled with Irish fans.

"I was ecstatic,” Williams said. “I was incredibly happy and really excited about it. Obviously, Notre Dame is a really great place. I'm looking forward to the visit.”

Williams sounded less sure about his interest in the Michigan offer, saying he might visit the school in the future, but first on the agenda is South Bend.

"I'm definitely still committed to the University of Missouri,” Williams said. “I'm a Tiger right now, but I want to weigh all my options and look at Notre Dame."

Tillery ranking jump

Notre Dame offensive line commit Jerry Tillery was one of the prospects to receive a boost in ESPN’s updated rankings for the 2015 recruiting class this week.

Tillery, a 6-foot-7, 312-pound junior at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La., now ranks as the No. 10 offensive tackle and No. 148 overall in the 2015 class according to ESPN. Tillery was previously ranked No. 205 overall.

Evangel Christian (9-1) hosts St. Thomas More (10-1) on Friday night in the LHSAA Division II state quarterfinals. Evangel’s only loss of the season came to St. Thomas More back in September.

Berrien Springs' defensive end Jhonny Williams, right, got offers last week from both Notre Dame and Michigan. SBT photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
2014 defensive end prospect Jhonny Williams. Photo provided.