Jhonny Williams warms up for Notre Dame with state shot put title

South Bend Tribune

In his last bright burst of high school athletics glory, Jhonny Williams let his heart do the talking.

And where it took the future Notre Dame defensive end, barely two weeks away from his first real taste of his new world, was to someone who was always in his corner at Berrien Spring High School, and before that at the middle school level.

To Duane McLaughlin, a longtime Berrien Springs assistant track coach.

“I feel like I’m more happy for him than I am for myself,” Williams said Saturday in a telephone interview after transcending his No. 7 seeding and winning the Michigan Division 3 shot put title at Comstock Park with a toss of 56 feet even.

“He’s been with me ever since seventh grade, when I started to throw. He taught me the shot put. He was kind of like a father figure to me. He kind of took care of me back in the day. And this might be his last year coaching.

“If that’s the case, then I’m his last thrower. I feel like he came out this year for me. So it was just really important for me to get this for him.”

The celebration, Williams insists, will be short. Graduation is set for Sunday. Then on June 16, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder will attend his first classes at Notre Dame and begin summer football workouts, which this year are more structured/supervised than in previous years because of new NCAA rules.

The veteran Irish players actually start summer school Monday, including repatriated spring-semester academic casualty DaVaris Daniels — ND’s leading returning receiver. Most of them will be enrolled in a two-week community service class before regular classwork begins the 16th.

Williams, one of 23 players in the incoming freshman football class, has his own agenda for the next couple of weeks — working out and conditioning. Though it’s not like he’s been coasting the past couple of months.

He not only threw the shot for the Shamrocks this spring, but he high-jumped and was a member of the 4-by-100-meter relay team that finished 17th in the state on Saturday. In his free time, Williams made intermittent 25-mile trips to the ND campus to take in spring practices.

“What I got out of going to those practices were getting to know the overall system a little bit, getting to know the players, just being around the team and all,” Williams said. “I have to say I love (new defensive coordinator Brian) VanGorder.

“I think he’s a great coach. He has a heck of a lot of experience and just overall knowledge about the game. He’s been in the NFL the last few years. And coming down to the college level, he obviously brings something to the table that’s really, really significant. I just kind of wanted to watch and see where I fit in.”

CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming sees Williams fitting in as an immediate contributor as a reserve defensive end in niche situations, and much more than that down the road.

“I know that I, like just about everyone else, missed him early in the recruiting cycle,” Lemming said of the very late-rising prospect. “When I finally saw his film and got to know his story, I rated him as one of the 10 sleepers in the country — players like Johnny Manziel who came out of high school with little fanfare but have a chance to make a big impact.”

Williams has mixed feelings about being overlooked for so long, but his life experiences — like his older brother Gregory battling cancer (and winning that battle) — keep his perspective grounded.

“The ranking thing bothered me a little bit,” Williams said. “I feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because of that, and I take that really, really aggressively. I feel like I do want to prove something. I do want to show people you should have missed me.

“But part of me doesn’t mind, because in two weeks I’ll be at the greatest place in the world, the University of Notre Dame. And that’s where I wanted to be all along.”


Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Future Notre Dame defensive end Jhonny Williams won the Michigan Division 3 state shot put title Saturday and was a member of Berrien Springs High's state finalist 4-by-100-meter relay team. (Photo provided)