As a prospect in the summer of 2013, Jalen Williams didn’t want to attend Clemson’s football camp. Now, three years later, he’s playing a key role on Clemson’s defense.
Had it not been for his high school football coach, Williams might not be at Clemson right now.
That summer prior to Clemson’s camp, Williams had already competed at a couple of camps hosted by ACC schools — schools that told the 5-foot-9, 225-pounder he was too small to play for them.
So, when Clemson’s camp rolled around, Williams had no desire to go.
That’s when his head coach at Blythewood (S.C.) High School, Dan Morgan, intervened.
“It was the Saturday morning of the camp, and my coach called me and said, ‘Let’s go to Clemson camp.’” Williams said on Monday. “I said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to go because they are all saying I’m too short.’
“I said I didn’t want to do it, and he didn’t take no for an answer. He came to my house, got me out of my house and said, ‘Bring your cleats and let’s go.’”
Williams went, and he left with an offer from Clemson. A little more than two months later, Williams committed to the Tigers.
During the two-hour drive from Williams’ house in Columbia to Clemson, Morgan told Williams what he needed to hear, and he equipped Williams with motivation that helped him perform well once he got to the camp.
“That’s a long drive, and from the whole way from Columbia to Clemson, he was lecturing me, talking about it’s a great opportunity, and how are you going to pass it up?” Williams said. “When I came out to camp, I was loose. I felt light. I played fast, and I walked away with my offer.”
Clemson’s staff had seen Williams play on film. They just needed to see Williams play in person, and had he not come to Clemson’s camp, things could have turned out differently.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables liked what he saw from Williams that day, and that’s what he told Williams when he delivered news of the offer.
“He told me that he was impressed that I could do it in person,” Williams said. “Everybody’s highlight tape looks good — everybody is going to make big hits on their highlight tape, everybody is going to catch a pick and get a sack. But he said the biggest thing about camp is you can do it in their face. It’s like, what can you do for me right now?
“For coach V to be able to see me perform like that in his face, I think it really made an impression on him.”
On Saturday in Clemson’s season-opening 19-13 win at Auburn, Williams showcased the talent that Clemson saw.
Williams played a career-high 34 snaps and recorded two tackles. But the aspect of Williams’ game that shined the most was the versatility he displayed.
On several occasions, Williams helped Clemson force punts as part of a dime package in which he played safety. He also played Clemson’s hybrid nickel-SAM linebacker position.
“I feel like I can do both, and coach doesn’t have to change the personnel completely,” Williams said. “I can guard the slot, or I can stay in there when it’s third and short and put my nose in the gap.”
Williams even played some MIKE linebacker during spring practice and fall camp. The sophomore doesn’t care where he lines up, though. He trusts the coaching staff to employ him in the right situations.
“Coach V, he’s been coaching this game for a long time, so he knows what he wants his players at,” Williams said. “Wherever he wants me at, that’s where I’m going to be.”
Williams played different roles, and played the biggest role of his career, in one of the biggest games of his career.
While the stage and spotlight were much different than his days as a recruit at Blythewood, Williams treated the game like any other.
“It’s football at the end of the day,” Williams said. “When you first go out there, you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s 95,000 (people).’ But after you get your first couple of snaps and after you get that first hit into the opponent, it’s just football.
“It’s the same game I’ve played since Pop Warner, since I was at middle school and since I was in high school. It’s just the whole world watching now instead of my high school and my parents, but it’s the same game.”