A nineteen-second video on Twitter told me everything I need to know about Isaiah Williams. A few sentences is all you need to hear and you’ll understand why the four-star quarterback is a perfect fit at Illinois.
“I don’t want nothing guaranteed, I don’t want nothing given to me,” Williams said during Illinois’ team media day on Tuesday. “I knew coming in, the one thing I had to focus on was just working hard, learning everything. My time’s gonna come.”
Those words spoken from a player who was listed as the No. 116 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class, according to 247Sports’ Composite rankings. A kid who had 44 offers as a recruit, but chose Illinois over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Auburn, to name a few.
How easy would it have been for Lovie Smith to promise Williams a starting spot, whether at quarterback or any other position? Hand the four-star freshman the keys and allow him to drive the offense without the slightest competition?
It would’ve been easy considering Williams’ talent level. And it would’ve probably guaranteed his commitment to the Illini.
Smith didn’t do that. Instead, Illinois pursued Brandon Peters, another former four-star and Michigan quarterback who is also capable of leading the offense. Now, there’s a true battle under center this fall, something that’s been non-existent in Champaign for some time.
Williams’ response to the challenge shows that he’s exactly the kind of kid Illinois needs. He’s the type of player that can help right the ship, too.
“I don’t want nothing guaranteed. I don’t want nothing given to me.”
Taking a step back, how rare — even countercultural — is this? How many “program changers” have this attitude?
— Gordon Voit (@GordonVoit) August 6, 2019
For three years under Smith, Illinois has seen its fair share of departures. Whether playing time has been an issue or a clash in mentality, the Illini have seen a number of players walk out the door. That long list includes three quarterbacks, all of which saw snaps during their time in Champaign– Cam Thomas, Jeff George Jr. and M.J. Rivers.
Knowing the nature of the transfer portal today, Williams easily could’ve been the fourth. When Smith received a commitment from Peters, Williams could’ve looked for other options, maybe an immediate opportunity to play. In today’s world of college athletics, nobody would’ve batted an eye.
Then you go back to the video and understand Williams’ character.
“Right now, I just want to come in and just learn everything,” Williams said. “That’s just the biggest thing. It’s not about starting or anything like that.”
It’s that kind of attitude that can help Illinois escape from the B1G cellar. Illinois seems like an attractive place for a high-level recruit looking to step on the field immediately, and it is. It’s not raking in the same kind of talent as an Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama or Clemson. Nobody would argue that.
But Williams’ mentality is one that’s contagious. If the highly-praised, big-time recruit who had opportunities to play anywhere in the country is fine with waiting his turn, others will follow his lead. That’s what helps a team — particularly a young one — grow and mature.
The fact that a true freshman is doing that, especially one of Williams’ caliber, speaks a lot to his character. It’s going to speak to his teammates, too.