Even a video shown in the Lake Marion High School auditorium prior to the standout wide receiver announcing his decision added to the suspense. The film highlighted Williams’ top plays with the Gators and closed with him imposed in the middle of the line of scrimmage separating the University of South Carolina and Clemson University linemen.
Yet it turns out the announcement was a formality in Williams’ mind. After a few words, Williams quickly ended the speculation by donning the hat of his college selection.
“I’m going to be a Tiger,” Williams said before teammates, family members and Clemson supporters inside the school auditorium.
With those words, the 2011 T&D Region Player of the Year and four-star recruit ended a battle for his services that involved as many as 13 schools. Defending national champion Alabama was among the nine schools that officially offered the 6-4, 185-pound senior, but Williams said the Crimson Tide was not under serious consideration.
“They (Alabama) wasn’t close,” he said. “A family member was saying they were a good school, but they weren’t close.”
Williams eventually narrowed down the list to the Palmetto State’s two biggest schools. Up until a month ago, Lake Marion head coach Chris Carter acknowledged the Gamecocks were in the lead for his services and viewed him in the mode of St. Matthews native Alshon Jeffery based on his size and wingspan.
“(South) Carolina was actually leading,” he said. “They had him locked him until the last two weeks. That’s when we saw the switch — that last two weeks. But pretty much the whole time, it was (South) Carolina.”
Another visit to Clemson and a sit-down with Carter resolidified Williams’ commitment to the Tigers — following in the footsteps of Holly Hill natives such as Adrian Dingle and Vontrell Jamison in football and Harold Jamison in basketball.
“I think after he assessed both teams ... he saw that Clemson was a better fit for him,” Carter said. “I think one of the things that I told Mike, I said, ‘You want to pick a place, number one, that you’re going to grow spiritually, learn and then you’re going to be able to play.’ But he felt like just going up there. He felt like Clemson was the better fit for him.”
“It was kind of difficult, but I always had in mind where I wanted to go to,” he said. “I’m going to make a lot of people happy and a lot of people sad. But that’s where I wanted to go.”
Another of the factors in the Tigers’ favor, according to Williams, was a receiver-friendly offense coordinated by Chad Morris that fits Williams’ skills and features players like Sammy Watkins.
Having Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney attend one of the Gators’ home games also left a positive impression on Williams. Before making Tuesday’s announcement, Williams said he received what proved to be a last-minute sales pitch from Swinney.
“He called me last night and talked to be about wanting me to be there,” he said.
Williams joins a potential signing day class on Feb. 6, 2013, that already has 16 verbal commitments, including Orangeburg-Wilkinson’s Jadar Johnson, and is currently ranked 13th by ESPN. National Signing Day is also when the Clemson coaching staff can officially comment on incoming freshman as stipulated by NCAA rules.
The Tigers’ roster already has Bamberg-Ehrhardt’s Martin Aiken, Calhoun County’s Dante Stewart and Woodland’s Robert Smith from The T&D Region.
With his college future set, Williams can turn his full attention back to the Gators’ football team. This season, Lake Marion will compete in Region 7-AA with Andrews, Kingstree, Lake City, Lee Central and Timberland. The Gators open the season in Week Zero at home against Darlington on Aug. 17.
“I’m just focused on my high school team,” Williams said. “Trying to win a lot of games, make go to the playoffs, possibly state.”
“I believe there’s not a corner in this region that we’re going to that’s better than Mike in my opinion,” Carter said. “When I sit down with Mike, I said ‘Great players elevate guys around him,’ and I kind of gave him an example like a (University of South Carolina defensive lineman) Jadeveon Clowney at South Pointe. Those guys elevate other guys to other levels. He has the capability to take over a game by making people better.”
SANTEE - Mike Williams says he is going to be a Tiger.
The prized wide receiver prospect and 2011 T&D Region Player of the Year verbally committed Tuesday to Clemson. Williams selected the school over Palmetto State rival South Carolina.
Williams told T&D Senior Sports Writer Thomas Grant Jr. of his decision shortly before making a public announcement at an event at Lake Marion High School.
Williams, The Times and Democrat’s 2011 Player of the Year, has been a sought-after commodity for college football programs across the nation since his sophomore year.
The Lake Marion star, standing at 6-4 and weighing 185 pounds, received offers from programs such as Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia, but Williams said in recent weeks his choice was narrowed to Clemson and South Carolina.
Williams, who attended events at Clemson and South Carolina in July, noted that being able to play in his home state played a major role in his decision to narrow his list to the Tigers and the Gamecocks.
In Carolina’s favor, Williams told The T&D, "Carolina is looking for a player like me. Going to them, I can go in and start my freshman year. I've got a good bond with Coach Steve Spurrier Jr. and Coach (Everette) Sands. …
"Clemson treats you well. I like their offense. They spread the ball and they move the ball up and down the field, but they're stacked at wide receiver."
After attending Clemson’s “All In” event a week later, however, Williams sounded less like a Carolina commitment and more a player headed to the Upstate. He said Clemson had a slight lead in vying for his services.
Nonetheless, Williams maintained throughout the process that his decision had been made.
With all the attention he's gotten up to this point from being named the third-ranked college football prospect in South Carolina by Rivals.com and one of the top recruits to watch in the ESPN 300, Williams has acknowledge that his phone isn’t expected to stop ringing even after the Tuesday announcement.
Lake Marion head coach Chris Carter has tried to prepare his star player for what is ahead
In the weeks before the announcement, Carter said, "I told him that you're still going to have schools that are going to try to talk to you and offer you. You're a big-time receiver. But the bottom line is, at this day and time, a lot of people will show up and they'll sign different guys. So if you know where you want to go, you need to go ahead and put your name on that scholarship if you know that's where you want to go."