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5-star safetyman James Williams can be a building block for someone's class in 2021. Is he getting close to a decsion?

James Williams: Nation’s No. 1 junior safety has a 6-foot-4 inch story to share

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. The play sheet today calls for a chance to visit with 5-star Florida safety James Williams from the 2021 class. He’s the biggest safety prospect we will probably ever write about. 

To tell a real James Williams story, a lot of names will have to pop up.

Robert Ortega. Ed Reed. Sean Taylor. Ira Williams. That is a very small sample.

The University of Georgia has told him it views him as another Taylor. That’s a lofty laurel to place around any young man’s shoulders. Even a kid with a 6-foot-4 frame like Williams carries.

“Be the next Sean Taylor,” James Williams said about UGA. “That’s what they all told me. That’s what coach (Bacarri) Rambo told me and what coach Kirby (Smart) told me. They tell me I’m the next Sean Taylor.”

If this was just about football, that player parallel alone will drive a meaty update. Especially given that Williams (Western High/Opa Locka, Fla.) rates as one of the nation’s top 5 prospects in the 2021 class.

Taylor’s name belongs on the list of the greatest safeties ever. Williams admires him. But one name means more than any other, including his grandmother Ira Williams.

It will be Maria Gibson.

That’s his mother. Her side of the family is very tall. His aunt on his mother’s side is 6 feet, 3 inches tall.

She passed when he was very young. Ortega said Williams was five.

The lives of both of his parents got caught up in tough streets. There is no relationship with his father to bring up here. That’s the kindest way to phrase that.

“It was tough,” said Ortega, who now serves as his guardian. “It was tragic. Tough. This kid has got a story. For sure.”

Ortega is making a tremendous impact on this young man’s life. When Williams gets an offer, he tweets them out with the same simple wish for his mother: Rest. In. Peace. 

“His mom is deceased,” Ortega said. “That is his biggest motivation. The only motivation. Every offer he gets, he will post. He puts ‘Rest in peace Mom’ for everyone. That’s his thing. I told him your blessings are coming all the way 1000 percent from your mother’s love. That’s his Mom.”

If so, his mother has been very generous with those. Williams has rare size at 6 feet, 4 inches and 218 pounds.

He’s a ballplayer in every sense of that term. Just like his momma. It drives any narrative here with Mr. Williams. It likely always will.

“I lost my Mom young,” Williams said. “I play ball for her. All she did growing up was playing ball. So that’s all I want to do. Play ball for her.”

The picture tethered to his HUDL highlight film is not his. It is of Gibson. If that has happened before, this reporter has never seen it.

The recruiting industry has a lot to say about Williams. He’s the nation’s No. 1 safety and the No. 4 overall prospect (247Sports Composite ratings) for the 202 class. Check out this play he made over the weekend.

The sites all list him at as a 6-foot-5 safety, but he’d rather keep it real.

“I’m only about 6-foot-4,” he said. “That’s what they measured me at when I was at Clemson. I weighed 220 when I was there.”

James Williams-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting
James Williams is the nation’s No. 1 safety prospect in the class of 2021. But there’s so much more than football here. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

The scouting report on James Williams 

Most are quick to see that size and length and then project. They feel if Williams is already that big, he’s a sure outside linebacker on Saturdays. Maybe even his senior year in high school.

It is a logical point. Except Williams doesn’t believe it. It will be the most important thing.

He’s also talented enough to call his shot with this. Truth be told, he’s only grown about an inch since his freshman season.

That’s even though he has added about 45 pounds and three shoe sizes over the last 2.5 years.

Ortega has an opinion on the matter. The longtime youth coach is also the defensive coordinator on his 7-on-7 team.

“Everyone says he’s a linebacker at the next level but he’s not a linebacker at the next level,” Ortega said. “The kid works harder than anybody. I don’t know if you saw him play today, but the kid makes a lot of picks coming out of speed turns. The kid moves like he is 4 feet, 3 inches tall. Or like he runs a 4.3 in his 40. You move big safeties to linebacker when they can’t move like the other elite safeties. James can move and cover ground like those shorter guys. But he’s right at 6 feet and 5 inches tall. ”

Williams is going to be pretty stubborn about a position flip.

“I started there at safety my freshman year and I want to end it there with my football career,” he said. “No matter what.”

The opinion here is he can play safety on Sunday. Much less on Saturdays. There is scant doubt in this evaluation on that. When I scouted him earlier this year, he quickly picked off three passes in minutes at the Pylon 7-on-7 National Championships in Atlanta in May.

That’s a tournament for big and fast dudes. Especially those jitterbug slot receivers.

Williams can hang with those guys with the quicks flying into his middle third and deep thirds. They are like gnats. Sometimes he’s shadowing guys five to six inches smaller than him.

He will still average three or four interceptions per 7-on-7 event he competes in.

Anything over the middle, he just snuffs it. He controls the middle of the field. Unless you’ve got another 6-foot-5 guy to go against him. Then it will be a battle.

Williams sprung to my mind when watching 6-foot-7 Darnell Washingon and 6-foot-6 blue chips Arik Gilbert and Theo Johnson at the Opening finals this summer in Texas. Who can cover those guys?

Is there anyone in the SEC that can do that and stay away from highlight tapes?

It will take a 6-foot-4 safety with the range like Williams to do so.

He closes well in space. Makes plays on the ball. He will run the alley and strike guys. The film shows that.

What the film doesn’t show on James Williams

Watching at the Pylon event, there was even more stuff to like. Andy Waid, an assistant coach on the DEFCON 7-on-7 squad Williams stars on, share a preliminary scouting report.

“He’s a great kid first off,” Waid said. “Pretty quiet. Great demeanor. Not a lot of personality. But on the football field, he’s another creature.”

Williams was flying around. Everywhere. He was very deserving of the “ballhawk” label with his high 4.5 and low 4.6 speed in the 40. His length shaves another tenth of a second off that time in coverage. At least.

His GPS numbers would have been off the chart. Even in some 5-star Atlanta heat. It was a sizzler.

“He wants to play safety,” Waid said. “That’s what he wants to do. Loves safety. Loves being out there and being a field general for the defense and seeing everything that is going on.”

James Williams-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting
Williams has vast size and length for the safety position. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

It was natural. He reads QBs the way housewives takedown romance novels at the beach.

“I read the quarterback,” Williams said. “That’s what I do. Whenever and where ever he lets that grenade go, that’s where I go.”

He’s different. In a lot of ways.

Williams is known for how big he is, but that assessment was made crystal clear after watching the little things he does to make his teammates better.

He’s slapping backs. Backsides. Pumping up teammates. Both sides of the ball. He treated that 7-on-7 tournament like a career was on the line.

“Everyone knows I am a 5-star I guess,” James Williams said. “But everyone is always working to be better than me. I don’t want anybody to be better than me or my team and I want everyone on my team to be the best. I want them to be better than me. It starts by getting them to compete the way I compete.”

Williams flashed innate leadership qualities. It was as uncommon in that regard as a 6-foot-4 free safety sounds, too.

“He’s the best leader I have ever seen,” Ortega said “He’s Ray Lewis on that field. He is Ray Lewis. If something goes wrong, he will go to the quarterback and say he’s sorry about the defense giving up that score. He’ll tell the QB ‘to get him that one back’ but if his QB throws a pick he’s the first one to run over and say ‘Don’t worry about that we are going to stop them’ and ‘we’ll stop them’ and ‘we’ll keep us right in this game because we got your back’ and he’s like that all the time. He is the true definition of a leader.”

Through it all, there is just stuff here that not event Sabans or Smarts or Swinneys can coach up.

Williams was thrown over at receiver for a 15-and-under tournament out in Las Vegas. For a big drive. He drew quadruple coverage.

“Still threw it to him,” Waid said. “Four guys on him. But not four guys up there with him. James just went over the top of everybody and snatched it.”

James Williams-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting
Robert Ortega chats with 5-star safety James Williams at the Pylon 7-on-7 tournament back in May in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

UGA wants James Williams to be the first 2021 commit

That subhead would make DawgNation happy this month. Don’t count on that happening, though.

“They want me to be the first 2021 commit but I told them I am going to wait, let things settle and just ride for a minute,” Williams said.

Tyson Campbell has a relationship here. He’s told Wiliams that he needs him in Athens. He wants him to come to play with him for the Bulldogs.

His first visit was back in May.

“It felt like home,” Williams said.

Williams returned for the cookout in late July. It was another strong impression.  His recruitment opened back up after he de-committed from Miami earlier this year.

“I was moving too fast and now I want to re-open my recruitment and see how things go,” Williams said. “Because you can only get this one time.”

When he was a Hurricanes commit, he got to know Todd Hartley. That was when he coached the tight ends there. Hartley now holds the same position at UGA.

“Every time I went down to the University of Miami when I was committed I talked to him,” Williams said. “He was a cool guy. He was cool with me.”

Williams gave the first UGA visit a 9.5 rating. He spent about four hours there. It sounds like Clemson and Georgia can be real contenders here.

“Georgia does it well because they build the relationship,” Williams said. “Clemson does it well because they do things outside of football. Do things with the kids. Travel with the guys. Have fun. Make it feel like a home and a family there.”

Auburn, Miami and Penn State are also standing out. Williams now plans to decide his senior year. Or near the end of his junior year.

“Depends on how my junior year goes,” he said.

He aims to be a mechanical engineer. His 3.7 grade-point average says he has the grades for that degree, too.

James Williams-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting
James Williams, at 6 feet 5 inches and 218 pounds, is the nation’s No. 1 safety prospect for 2021. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Robert Ortega on “Baby James” Williams

If the best stories are supposed to have happy endings, this one is still in the works. But what might be almost as good as that?

A present filled with a lot of joy might just be.

Ortega came to know Williams a few years ago. He was coaching him “FBU” events. Or better yet, he wasn’t telling him he was all that. They grew close quickly.

“Everyone wonders why he loves me,” Ortega said. “That’s because I’m hard on him. I never tell him how good he is. I tell him he’s just not that good to me. I’ll tell him he’s sorry because I never want him to feel like he’s doing enough. In life, we are all never doing enough. I want him to know that. When we get settled, then we fail. Someone is working to be greater than he is at all times.”

Ortega applied to become his guardian. His grandmother, Ira, is still in his life. But he didn’t lose her as a grandmother. Even though she treats him like her son.

What he gained was a family. And it sounds like the Ortegas gained more.

“When he came to us he was the best addition to my family,” Robert Ortega said. “He’s the best. He never had little brothers so he treats my kids like he is their big brother and he has been around them for years. They cry together. They pray together. He’s a great mentor. That’s the biggest thing I told him when he moved in. It was him being that role model. These kids look up to him. He’s not only a big role model for my son but to his whole football team.”

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Ortega makes sure that Wiliams knows that. Daily.

“It was a blessing from God,” Ortega said. “Coming in from where he came from to where he is now, it feels like he has been in our family for forever. We’re blessed to have him.”

It meant he was the one getting him new shoes every few months. It meant home-cooked meals every night. That helped him put on those 40-something pounds in two years.

“He took me in as his son,” Williams said. “I love that man because he wants the best for me.”

Ortega still calls him “Baby James.”

“One thing that sticks out to me about him is just watching him cry,” Ortega said. “When I saw cry, that’s because he is very emotional. The thing is everybody goes crazy about ‘Oh James this’ and ‘Oh James that’ but watching him be emotional on the field and giving it his all, it touches me. I get chills thinking about it when I watch him. He plays with so much desire and passion it is awesome.”

Williams will always be found watching game film. To see what he and his Western High teammates are doing both right and wrong. He’ll do that on his phone.

Ortega also stoked the natural leadership qualities within Williams.

“I can’t say I can take credit for that as much as I am always drilling him into playing like a captain out there,” he said. “But what I will say that I’ve been telling him since youth football that if you want to be the best, then it all comes from being the best teammate. More than anything else.”

James Williams-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting
James Williams wants to emulate the best parts he sees on film from Ed Reed and Sean Taylor. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
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