C.J. Williams may have been one of the most underappreciated recruits in recent Maryland prep history. A dynamic tailback on offense and an unblockable terror on defense, he was perhaps the driving player behind Calvert Hall’s 10-2 season in 2011. But when a scholarship offer failed to materialize from his “dream” school, his recruitment took a dramatic turn.
December 10th, 2011. C.J. Williams is amongst a wide-eyed contingent of high school seniors holding scholarship offers from the Naval Academy who arrived in Washington D.C. for the Army-Navy game. Unlike others who’ve known they’ve always wanted to go to the Annapolis based military Academy, the native Marylander found himself looking for answers as to where he wanted to go to college. Despite rushing for over 1000 yards during his senior season and contributing 85 tackles, Williams had been passed over by every Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program in the country, including his longtime “dream school,” The University of Maryland. All save one that is; Navy.
It didn’t take long for one dream to give way to another. Ironically enough, his new dream took shape just a few miles from the university which passed him over.
“Right when I left that Army-Navy game I knew I wanted to go to Navy,” Williams told GoMids.com.
“I said ‘that’s the school I want to go to!’ Everyone is just so tight knit, and I just wanted to be a part of that when I went down there. It was awesome,” he added.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with GoMids about his commitment, Williams said that the Navy ‘Brotherhood’ was the most important factor in getting him to say ‘yes’ to the Academy’s scholarship offer. He went on to say that once introduced to the school, its football program, and the Annapolis community, he would choose Navy over the University of Maryland “any day of the week.” Here’s a full look at what Williams had to say in regards to his commitment.
Have you always liked Navy? When was it that you really got serious about the possibility of attending the Academy?
I’ve always liked Navy, just with their tradition and everything. When I went down there for the Army-Navy game everyone was just so into it. With the ‘Brotherhood’ and everything it made me want to play for the team so bad. With the fans and everything -- the looks on the players’ faces -- it was just electric. I just want to be a part of the Brotherhood and play for them.
Did the ‘Brotherhood’ remind you at all of what you came from at Calvert Hall?
It definitely reminded me a little bit of Calvert Hall and how we all play together and stuff like that. That’s one of the reasons I’m going to Navy, because it’s very similar to Calvert Hall in everyone being so close to each other, and everyone has each others’ backs – in everything they do.
Did you know much about Navy when you were growing up and in high school? Did you have any Navy service members in your family?
I didn’t have too much experience with Navy. My Uncle went to Navy but besides that I didn’t have too much experience with them. Since sophomore year they have been recruiting me and I’ve been to a few games here and there, but besides that, not too much. But I’ve always liked (Navy).
I know you were recruited by Napoleon Sykes, who is no longer at Navy but was responsible for recruiting Maryland. Was he an important factor in your recruitment?
I became really close to him. He went to Gilman, and has this really friendly vibe that you can just play around and stuff like that. When he left I was kind of like, “uh, oh,” but coach (Danny) O’Rourke has been awesome and me and him have gained a great relationship. It hasn’t been too tough moving on.
You were a standout on both sides of the ball, and could fit into a fullback or a safety mold in college. Do you know where Navy will you?
I just actually talked to coach O’Rourke (last week), and he said the coaches have had arguments over where I’m going to play and stuff like that. Honestly, it doesn’t matter where I play, but they are saying A-back, B-Back, outside linebacker, or safety. We’ll see.
Do you think you’re built in the mold of a Navy fullback (B-back)? They have quite a tradition…
I’m definitely built around that mold. I am a tough player and I love contact and love to do anything to lay it on the line for my team. I’m the type of player where in clutch situations and times of need for a big-play I can give you that big-play. I can fill that mold in B-back if they need me there.
Tell me about this ‘Williams Leap’ I’ve seen in your highlight film. When did you start – quite literally – jumping over the heads of defenders?
(Laughs.) I’ve been doing that ever since I’ve been playing rec. It’s always just been instinctual. I’ve always been a bit bigger and (defenders) have always tried to hit me low. Ever since I was young I’d say I was tired of getting hit low and would just hop over people. You don’t really plan it out – it just kind of happens. It’s all instinctual.
Did it hurt not to get an offer from Maryland? Does that give you a chip on your shoulder going into your college career at Navy?
It definitely adds fuel to the fire and stuff like that. There were definitely a lot of schools that were playing with me and stuff, and I definitely use that as motivation. I’m glad Navy was one of those schools that gave me an opportunity, but it definitely hurts not getting an offer from my home state school. But it’s no big deal. If it came down to Navy and Maryland I would go to Navy, any day of the week.
What was it like to have such an accomplished career and yet only get one FBS offers? Why do you think so many schools overlooked you?
It’s tough. I had some I-AA offers but besides that a lot of the I-A schools were saying they didn’t know where to play me. They told me I was kind of like a tweener type between a linebacker and a safety. In high school I played middle linebacker but they had no film on me as safety, so that’s why a lot of schools were like ‘I don’t know if you can play safety for us.’ I didn’t fit the ‘measurables’ for a linebacker because I’m only 210 pounds, so a lot of schools we telling me I’d have to add on some weight and stuff like that. But it is what it is, and it just made me work harder.
Adam Nettina has been covering college football at the Naval Academy for the past five seasons. He is the former Sports Editor of the Utah Statesman and currently writes his own sports and pop-culture blog called Option Pitch and Waffle Crisp.