Berrien Springs head coach Bill Bergan knew he had a football player the first time he saw Jhonathon Williams in pads.
Jhonny Williams changed his commitment from Missouri to Notre Dame shortly after a visit to campus in late November.
Williams, a tall and lanky basketball convert, had never stepped on a football field prior to his sophomore year of high school. As soon as he did, he showed that he was a natural. Bergan recalls the crack Williams’ made in hitting drills during that first day of practice and the smile he cracked immediately after. He knew right away that his new find from the basketball courts could hit.
“He’s a hitter, oh my goodness,” Bergan said. “He didn’t stop moving his feet. That was the one thing we noticed about John. He never stopped his feet when he was making tackles.”
Williams said he always considered himself a basketball player growing up. He is on pace to finish his hoops career with more than 1,000 points. He’s also an all-state long jumper and shot putter. He cleared six feet, four inches as a junior in the high jump and threw the shot put 53 feet, nine inches. Notre Dame’s coaches thought Williams’ athletic ability away from the field was a good sign for his future in football.
Head coach Brian Kelly said he thinks his staff may have stolen a “sleeper” in Williams because of his late entry in football and the relatively week competition he faced at Berrien Springs. He said it was Williams’ athleticism in other arenas that led to Notre Dame’s interest.
“Who knows what his future is going to be? There’s no ceiling on Jhonny Williams’ future,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s got to have at least some intangibles that we can really look at: outstanding in track, outstanding in basketball, some other sports that you can kind of look at and go: ‘Wow, off the charts.’ So another sport where you can kind of identify. Jhonny Williams’ numbers in track and field are off the charts for his size.”
Williams didn’t really start to think of football as his future until last summer when college coaches started showing up with scholarship offers after an impressive camp at Michigan State — the first and only scouting event he attended.
The Berrien Springs staff convinced the 6-6, 237-pounder that he should try football after watching him workout with some of the older players in the weight room as a freshman. The sports would toughen him up for basketball, they told him. Instead, it was Williams’ speed and good hands from the basketball court that translated to success on the gridiron. He said he always embraced the hard work and discipline that came with football, and the results started to show this fall.
“I’ve just been doing what I’ve been doing every year,” he said. “I’ve been training hard. I prepared myself.”
Bergan said his explosive defensive end was still learning exactly how to use his hands and how to stay low enough to create leverage. Those lessons started to click in the middle of Williams’ senior season.
Williams first committed to Toledo, Bergan’s alma mater in the summer. He switched to Missouri for a chance to play in the Southeastern Conference when big-time college coaches started to see his potential. As his high school season came to a close, more brand name offers followed from places like Michigan and Notre Dame.
Williams lives only a half hour north of Notre Dame’s campus and said they staying close to his family was important to him. He visited South Bend to watch the Irish beat BYU in the regular-season finale in late November and committed that weekend.
“I’ve always wanted to be close to home, but I never really had that chance,” he said. “Missouri isn’t too far, but even that was going to be too difficult for my family to see me play. Notre Dame is the ideal fit for me.”
It might take some time for Williams to fill out his frame and be ready for Division I action, but when takes the field he’ll be close to home.