Before his freshman season at North Stanly High, All-America running back Antonio Williams said North Carolina football coaches were ready to offer him a scholarship.
The Tar Heels apparently liked what they saw at their summer football camp.
“I don’t really remember exactly what I did,” said Williams, whose Comets are 3-1 and will play at North Moore (3-2) Friday. “I just did the drills and all that stuff and I guess they were really impressed.”
Williams rushed for 1,500 yards his freshman season. North Carolina offered the scholarship and Williams said he committed to the school, though nothing is binding until high school players sign as seniors.
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After polishing off a sophomore season when he ran for 2,170 yards and 18 touchdowns, Williams had a change of heart. He made the MaxPreps’ first-team sophomore All-America team and his scholarship offers multiplied. Williams said he decommitted from the Tar Heels and figured he’d be better off weighing his college options.
At 16, Williams is 5-foot-11, 205 pounds and can run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, swift for most high school players. He can bench press 390 pounds and squat 630.
He carries a 3.9 grade-point average, according to North Stanly coach Ralph Jackson, and is on track to graduate in December 2015, allowing him to matriculate to college one semester early.
After initially choosing the Tar Heels, Williams said it is best now to take his time.
“I committed early,” he said. “I was looking at the numbers of players they were putting into the NFL and not looking at how I fit into that system. I started seeing I needed to look around. But UNC is still in the picture, definitely.”
Williams said he has 15 scholarship offers. He has already visited North Carolina and Duke and plans trips to Wisconsin and Auburn. His college list of favorites: Wisconsin, UNC, Duke, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Michigan – listed in the order he gave them.
Talking about all the big-name colleges that are pursuing his player, North Stanly coach Jackson laughs. He spends much of his time trying to get Williams nominated for local media awards and statewide noteriety.
“It’s hard to get the word out,” Jackson said of receiving exposure in New London, about 40 miles northeast of Charlotte. “But he’s special. He’s changed the culture here at North Stanly as far as football.”
Last season, North Stanly finished 9-4. It was the school’s first winning season since 1998. In Williams’ freshman year, North Stanly was 2-9.
Jackson remembers when the team lost three games in a row in Williams’ freshman season in 2012. He said Williams approached him, asking if he could get extra time in the weight room. Jackson said he worked a few guys out at 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday and he welcomed Williams to join.
Jackson said he never expected Williams to show up, but his father dropped him off every day that week – and he’s been a regular ever since.
“He ran a 4.8 40 when he got here,” Jackson said, “but he ran a 4.53 at Auburn (camp) this summer. He’s strong as an ox now. He just kills it in the weight room.
“We’ve got a few kids who graduated a couple years ago and they’ve been to college and he’s head and shoulders above those kids in strength and body type.”
Jackson said the dedication to weight training has taken Williams from a very good player to elite status. This season, Williams has rushed for 871 yards, which ranks 12th nationally among juniors. He averages 11.6 yards per carry. He has 11 touchdowns.
In last week’s 75-7 win against South Davidson, Williams carried 12 times for 333 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s a player,” said Davidson Day coach Chad Grier, who has coached several high school All-Americans. “I think he’s the real deal. There’s a lot of hype about a lot of different kids, but this is one who’s different.
“Certain kids you can just watch and tell. He’s got a certain swagger about him, but it doesn’t come across as cocky.
“He came up to me and spoke at a 7-on-7 this summer and he’s a really nice kid. He didn’t need to seek me out, but he carried himself like a first-class kid. He made great eye contact. Somebody’s instilled some good values into him.”
After Williams’ big game last week, some UNC fans took to Twitter to ask him to “bring his talents” to Chapel Hill. Williams said he appreciates that college fans are interested in him, but he said he won’t make a decision until about a month into his senior season.
“It’s kind of crazy to see what is happening to me, but I’m not going to let that affect my decision,” he said. “I know a lot of fans want me to go to certain places, but I have to do what’s right for me.”
Wertz : 704-358-5133; Twitter : @langstonwertzjr