Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio have made a concerted effort to keep the state’s top high school football players at home.
In the case of King High School (Detroit) 4-star receiver Rashawn Williams, both coaches struck out.
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In an announcement that might have shocked some, Williams (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) made a verbal commitment to Indiana last week, passing up offers from Michigan, MSU and Ohio State, among others.
Williams, the state’s No. 4-ranked junior according to the 247Sports Composite, not only passed up the Wolverines and Spartans, he never considered them among his finalists.
“I wanted to get away,” Williams said after Monday’s workout at King. “My mind was already made. Wherever I go, wherever I take my talents, I’m going to be a star.”
When he narrowed his list of finalists to Cincinnati, Indiana, Purdue, Syracuse and West Virginia at the end of April, it became clear to King coach Ty Spencer his star receiver was heading to the Hoosier State.
“He talked about Purdue and Indiana a lot,” Spencer said. “They were doing a great job recruiting him, his family, his mother. I wasn’t too surprised when he picked Indiana. It wasn’t about logos and all that; it was more about who’s going to build him as a player and person.”
Despite the allure of playing in Ann Arbor with former King standout Ambry Thomas and former Cass Tech receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, Williams was never sold on Harbaugh’s program.
He made numerous unofficial visits to Michigan, including at the Wolverines’ Junior Day on Jan. 26. Most of his visits included conversations with Harbaugh and other coaches.
Michigan State — Williams’ top choice when he entered high school — stopped regular communication, according to Williams, though he didn’t expand on the reason. He spoke to MSU assistants Mark Staten and Dave Warner a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t enough.
“Of course, you want to see kids stay home, but ultimately, they need to make the best decision for themselves and their family,” Spencer said. “I’m sure there were disappointed Michigan and Michigan State fans.”
With Williams intent on going out of state, he developed a strong bond with Indiana coach Tom Allen, running backs coach Mike Hart — a former Wolverines star — and receivers coach Grant Heard.
“The way I grew up, I like relationships,” Williams said. “These are guys I’m putting my future in. Coach Allen is building a culture at IU and it’s something I want to be part of.”
Heard was especially instrumental in luring Williams to Bloomington. Ranked No. 201 nationally by the 247Sports Composite, Williams, at the time of his commitment, was Indiana’s highest-ranked recruit in program history.
“Coach Heard, we talked every week, two or three times a week,” Williams said. “He was in my ear, like, ‘You can come down here and start a legacy. You can probably leave as one of the greatest, if not the greatest.’”
Hart also played a key role in the recruitment. Despite his Ann Arbor connections, he was able to sway Williams to Bloomington — a campus more recognizable by its men’s basketball program.
“Coach Hart, that’s my guy,” Williams said. “He was like an uncle, that’s the type of relationship I got from him. It was like family.”
Hart was careful not to talk about Michigan, knowing the Wolverines were still in the picture for Williams’ services.
“It was basically Indiana conversations,” Williams said. “It’s like, you can’t talk to a girl about her boyfriend if you’re the side boyfriend. You can’t do that. We had strictly conversations about IU and how I can change things down there.”
Although Indiana has struggled on the field — the Hoosiers finished last season 5-7 overall, 2-7 in the Big Ten — Williams prefers to focus on the program’s future under Allen, a former high school coach.
“I really didn’t care about national rankings, who comes to the games, things like that,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, it was my decision and nobody can live with it but me. Even if we lose a couple games, we have to take it on the chin.”
Though his 4.68-second 40-yard dash might seem slow in today’s world of speedy receivers, Williams said it won’t stop him from achieving success in college — and possibly beyond.
“T-shirts and shorts can only show so much,” he said. “Everybody sees what I do with pads on. I can do multiple things well. When you see it on film, you see me running away from people, breaking tackles, things people don’t think I can do.
“In my eyes, there’s no other Rashawn Williams. No matter how you put it, we got the same measurables, whatever, there’s really no other Rashawn Williams.”
Hoping to be considered among the top receivers to play high school football in Detroit — a list that includes Peoples-Jones, who was a 5-star recruit out of Cass Tech — Williams is eager to turn Indiana into a Big Ten contender.
“I want to start a pipeline, get people down to IU,” he said. “I want to build a team, plant my seeds and build from the ground up.”
Despite his bond with Indiana coaches, Williams said nothing is guaranteed until he signs a letter of intent in December.
“As of now, my mind is made, but there’s no telling what the future holds,” he said. “Right now, I’m an Indiana Hoosier.”