Jhonathon Williams took the road less traveled to the No. 3 spot on the Free Press’ Fab 50 list of the top recruits in Michigan.
Williams is 6-feet-6, 245 pounds, and has athleticism pouring out of his ears. But a year ago today he had no colleges interested in him.
The summer before that — between his sophomore and junior year — was a total disaster in every way imaginable.
It began when his older brother, Gregory, collapsed during a training run at an army base in Germany. An examination revealed cancer spreading throughout his upper torso, and he was sent to Washington, where Williams’ mother, Vanessa, and little brother, Calvin, spent the summer with him.
That meant Williams was home alone — and the last thing on his mind was football.
“I was here basically by myself,” he said. “Things were going on with the house, my dad, there was a lot going on.”
With his older brother recovering nicely, Williams finally concentrated on football. Last summer, he attended a camp at Michigan State where he — in today’s vernacular — blew up.
He was timed in an impressive 4.5 in the 40 and dazzled coaches, who loved him as an outside linebacker prospect with his overall athleticism. That is where his favorite sport — Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu — came in.
“It teaches physicalness and dedication to things,” Williams said. “And definitely footwork, because these size 15s weren’t always easy to walk with.”
Missouri swooped in and offered a scholarship, which he accepted.
But in November, Williams received a phone call from Chuck Martin, then the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
“At the time I was bit thrown off and confused,” he said. “I was really set with Missouri, but then again, you have to look at it because it’s Notre Dame.”
After visiting the campus and receiving an offer, Williams felt obliged to accept — and not just because it is Notre Dame, the football powerhouse.
“Missouri didn’t do anything wrong or anything like that, but with the way my family is right now and with things happening, I just can’t leave them,” he said. “I can’t leave my little brother and my mom in the state of Michigan alone.”
Notre Dame is in Indiana but only 30 minutes from Berrien Springs.
And then there is that whole education thing. Yeah, I know, this is where most athletes lose you. So many say they chose a particular school for the education and then spend the next four years majoring in eligibility and getting a degree in something that can’t possibly land them a job.
But Williams understands the significance of a diploma from Notre Dame.
“Coming from where I’m coming from — not to give a sad sob story — but it’s been pretty bad growing up since I’ve been young,” he said. “And I don’t exactly know that I’m going to go to a professional football league. My career could end in two months, so that degree from Notre Dame is really, really appealing.”
Let’s say Williams’ family life did not remotely resemble the Huxtables. “It’s no Cosby story,” he said.
The first few chapters of Williams’ life story might not have been a fairy tale, but he knows he is responsible for writing the next several chapters.
That is why Wednesday he plans to sign a letter of intent with Notre Dame.
Recruiting expert Sean Merriman will answer your questions in a live chat at 11 a.m. Monday at freep.com/sports. Submit early questions here. And also join us for a live blog on National Signing Day on Wednesday, starting at 8:30 a.m.