The bar has been set

California running back Jamaal Williams from Summit High School recently visited BYU's campus for Junior Day activities. Before he left to Provo, Utah, he had some preconceived notions of what to expect. By the time he left the Cougar campus, he left with a scholarship offer in hand and with a new and true understanding of what BYU is all about.

Every stereotype and misconception was wiped away. Every false perception and the countless notions that he had heard, gone. Jamaal Williams' visit to BYU was an eye-popping experience.

"BYU is a really wonderful school," said a usually shy Williams. "They have my attention for a few reasons. They're really motivated and want to win a national championship. Most of all the athletes out there are like me. They have a strong drive to win and want to win a championship.

"The Junior Day at BYU was really good. We did the regular things like the one-on-ones, and I was able to prove myself to the coaching staff that I was pretty good. We also toured around the campus, and it's a pretty big campus. I saw the business department and other sections of the campus.

"My major is communications, so I saw a lot of stuff out there. They have most of the top-of-the-line stuff out there that I never even knew! I saw their broadcasting facility and heard that it was one of the best, so I'm very interested in that and the communications part. It's good to know and I'm happy they have a special facility like that."

While on campus, Williams met some of the current players.

"I met their two running backs out there J.J. [Di Luigi] and Juice [Joshua Quezada], and they gave me some advice to take in consideration," said Williams. "They said for me to look for everything I would consider to be of worth in a school. They said I can take into consideration what everyone else might say about their school, but in the end it's going to come down to me.

"They were wonderful. We were hanging out and I feel like we could become long-term friends. It was great. Most of everybody there I had something in common with."

The highlight of Williams' BYU experience wasn't visiting the indoor practice facility, or the state-of-the-art broadcasting facility. It wasn't even the tour of BYU's campus or the iconic setting of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

"My highlight that I had out there was meeting with Bronco Mendenhall," Williams said. "He is just a straightforward guy, and he likes people to explain to him the answers to the questions that he asks them. I'm not really a talker or one who likes to talk a lot. I'm just not very sociable, but he always brought it out of me.

"I also don't like people who tell you things just to tell you things that might not be true. I don't like it when people aren't straight with you, but [prefer when they] tell you how things really are. Coach Mendenhall, he comes out with the truth every time. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he talks to you. He says what he believes and every time I talk to him, I know what he is saying is the truth. You don't get that a lot nowadays. He's just a wonderful person."

Prior to receiving his offer, Williams was called into Coach Mendenhall's office.

"At the end of the day I was offered," said Williams. "It was me, my mom, Coach Mendenhall, the offensive coordinator and Coach Weber – the one that's recruiting me – and we were talking about the whole day. Coach Mendenhall was asking me to explain my answers to the questions he was asking, things like, 'Explain about the campus,' and 'Why do you like it?' He also asked me, 'Explain to me why you would fit in.'"

However, there was one question Williams had been told by other camp participants that Coach Mendenhall would eventually ask him.

"Before I went into his office, everybody was saying Coach Mendenhall would ask me, 'Why do you want to come to BYU?' I was just waiting for that one question for him to ask me, but he never asked me it! At the end of the visit we began to walk out. I stopped and said, "Coach Mendenhall, wait! You forgot to ask me one more question.' He was like, 'What question is that?' The question you forgot to ask me is, 'Why do I want to come to BYU?' He says, 'Okay Jamaal, why do you want to come to BYU?'"

Williams then gave a heartfelt explanation of why he could easily become a part of Coach Mendenhall's program, and why he would want to come to BYU.

"I told him, 'It's because the rules are you can't be drinking, doing no drugs and no sex before you're married.' I then told him, 'People at my school don't have these kinds of morals like you have at BYU, and I feel like I'm the only one there that's trying to stay straight, keep things straightforward with myself and with the team and keep it all together so we can win. But when I come here, I feel like I'm not the only one and I can be a part of a band of brothers that I haven't even met before and be happy here.'

"Coach Mendenhall then said, "Jamaal, once I heard about you I liked you, but after I heard what you've just said right now, I like you even more.' We then laughed and had a great time. I just like the school. It's close to my heart. I just feel wonderful and it's a great program."

Respectful, grateful and humble, Williams left Coach Mendenhall's office beaming with excitement and happiness. Raised most of his life in the rough and tumble area of Fontana, California, Williams doesn't fit the character of one coming from a socially difficult area in the Inland Empire. He credits his mother for making him the person he is today.

"Well, most of my life my mom has been single," Williams said. "She's been a single mother most of my life, so she's the only woman that I've really been around. She's the only person that I've really been close to and that I can talk to, and she taught us to be careful, be safe and to believe in yourself. She raised us up right and taught us to take care of ourselves and to take care of others that need help, to be responsible and do the dishes, take out the trash and do our chores. She's a very special lady and I love her. I love her so much, I can't even put it into words."

Mrs. Williams also enjoyed her visit to BYU. Along with her son, she learned about BYU's unique qualities and the higher expectations it demands of its student athletes. As a mother, it was music to her ears.

"Well, she graduated from UCLA from track," Williams said. "The whole day and then right at the end of the day she loved the school. She said, 'UCLA doesn't have anything on BYU.' She loves the school more than UCLA right now. She loves it for me because her major problem is for me to be safe physically and spiritually. She feels at BYU she wouldn't have to worry about me as much as if I went to other schools that don't have these unique types of characteristics as BYU. I'm just grateful for the BYU offer."

But why is he grateful? Well, Williams will play college football some place. That's a given. But as a member of the Baptist faith, he's concerned with the experience he'll have both on and off the field, and at BYU he discovered things that resonated with him and his mother.

"The kids that were at BYU and that I was talking to, they're focused and like to keep their eyes on the prize," said Williams. "They don't focus on all that other stuff that will get you distracted from what's most important. When we were talking, we were talking about winning and none of that other stuff like going to the movies and things like that. We just really want to win.

"I was talking to the linebacker [Bobby Wolford] that committed, and we were talking about how we don't smoke and we don't drink or do those things that will cause a negative impact on our lives. We all want to go straightforward, and that was something I noticed we all had in common.

"I also feel safe there, and one reason why my mom wants me to go to BYU is because she won't have to worry about me getting into trouble or getting harmed, because it's just a wonderful place to be. Everybody is always together out there and it's like one big family. I went there, and the first person I saw waved at me and smiled! And it just continued through the whole day. Everyone was smiling and waving and I felt like I was already a part of the family, and these were people I haven't even met before. I was just seeing people on the sidewalk saying, 'Hey, how you doing,' and I was just talking to them. It's just a wonderful place to be."

Currently, Williams has three offers: Boise State, San Diego State and BYU. BYU was the first school he visited, and thus every other school must now meet the bar that BYU has set in his eyes.

"BYU is my top school right now," said Williams. "It was the first school I actually visited, and they just put such a high standard on everything now. So if I go visit other schools, I'm going to compare those schools to BYU. If they don't live up to what BYU's standards are, because I just feel like the recruiters of other schools might lie to me and if I pick them it's going to be a huge mistake, I'm just going to cross them off the list.

"BYU is clean with no graffiti and the players and coaches and the people are friendly and nice. If I go to other schools and see graffiti and everything else, I'm going to be like, 'Well, BYU doesn't have that. What's wrong with this campus? It's dirty and the people aren't nice here.' I'm going to take everything into consideration and everything has to meet BYU's standards now. I never thought that BYU would be top on my list already. It was just a wonderful place. People there take pride in being an example and flag bearer, being someone who stands for something greater."

Williams is looking to take the mentality of the people he met at BYU and incorporate it back home.

"BYU felt good and I'm now trying to take what I learned from there and trying to bring it to Summit," he said. "It's kind of hard, but I'm still working on it. I'm trying to get everybody together to have a nice, clean team that sticks together and always looks out for one another. I want to bring that BYU mentality back home to my school. I'm working on it."

Although his trip to BYU surpassed anything he had imagined, Williams will wait a while before making a final decision.

"I plan on making my decision after the season," Williams said. "I just want to take everything into consideration and then go from there."

With a BYU scholarship offer in hand, he not only has a clearer understanding of what BYU is truly about, but he also thanks God for the opportunity he has to be a part of a unique, one-of-a-kind program if he chooses to do so.

"I'm very excited and I'm very grateful," Williams said. "I thank God every day for it. I'm just loving it right now, but you know, if you're not from Utah, or have ever been to BYU, people will judge you for it. They'll say things like, 'It's BYU and they're Mormons. You don't want to go there because they're going to try and make you Mormon' and all that. Before I went there, I was afraid. I was thinking, 'Oh man, they're going to try and turn me Mormon.'

"When you go there, it gives you a different perspective on it. You can be any kind of faith you want and they expect you to live it to the fullest. J.J Di Luigi and Juice, they're not Mormon, and they love it out there because of how it's helped them become better. Now, when people judge me and say, 'Why do you want to go there? That's crazy,' I can just smile and say, 'You don't know what you're missing.'"

Until then, the bar has been set.


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