Illinois football is committed to success both on and off the field. That mantra has appealed to Chicago Mount Carmel defensive tackle Vontrell Williams, who was recently offered by the Illini. Williams has enjoyed great success in high school as his team reached the 8A state title game this past fall.
"I would have to say it was a big accomplishment, but we didn't win it so we needed to finish. Just making it isn't enough personally for me and for my team. We have to come away with a win, and hopefully next time we'll do that. First things first, we have to take care of Simeon in the opener. It's all one game at a time."
Williams had a productive junior campaign and is already gearing up for what promises to be another great season next year. He knows his abilities and knows how to use them well. Still, he never settles and is always working on his overall game.
"I'm a powerful and quick guy coming off the ball. I need to work on my pass rush even though I had 15 sacks this year. I'm always my biggest critic. I have plenty to work on to be a better player and a better leader, and I plan to do that this offseason to prepare myself for next year."
Physically, Williams has come a long way since the end of his junior season. Through hard work and proper diet, he is already seeing a significant difference.
"Right now I'm 6'-3", 270 pounds. My main goal is to put on a lot more weight for next season. This offseason, I've really started hitting the weights and getting the right nutrition. It's major for me.
Last year I didn't have as much of an offseason. Hopefully this year I'll be more explosive coming out of the offseason. My bench went from 245 to 355 just this offseason. My squat is about 560 now. I'm getting pretty powerful."
College means more to Williams than just a chance to play football. Mount Carmel has a storied history of academic prowess, and he values education just as much as anything else.
"Number one is academics. I'll have to look at whether or not they have my major (Business Administration). Then I'd want to look at the type of football played. I've always thought to go for the best so I can compete against the best. There's no glory in being the best of the worst so I always want a challenge. That's something my dad instilled in me."
Williams is starting to garner interest from multiple schools. It's still early, but Williams knows that it will be a difficult decision.
"Illinois, NIU, Bowling Green, and I just talked to Vanderbilt. Basically I have a good relationship with just about all of the defensive line coaches. I can already tell it's going to be a very hard decision."
Vontrell's first big offer came from Illinois. Before that, he had his doubts about whether or not he was really cut out for big-time Division I football. That offer erased those doubts.
"I went to Purdue the week before, and I walked away without an offer. At that moment I had some doubts about being a BCS-level player. The U of I offer really meant a lot to me and boosted my confidence. My family can come watch me play football or just visit me. It was amazing. It felt kind of unreal for a minute."
Williams likes how Illinois is close to home. He values the connections he shares with his family. He knows that regardless of where he chooses, they will support him.
"My family will be with me one way or another. I don't want to make it too hard and stressful for them. I'm just going to choose the school that's going to be best for me."
Williams had very positive remarks about his visit to Illinois. In addition to praising the facilities, he had great things to say about the coaching staff.
"A couple of things stood out: The defensive line coach (Keith Gilmore) and Coach (Ron) Zook. Also the strength and conditioning coach (Lou Hernandez). The defensive line coach just seems like a 'real' guy that will just tell you how he feels. He reminds me a lot of my dad, whether it's using Bible scriptures for real life situations or anything else.
"Coach Zook is one of the first head coaches that actually gave me a call. He's a great guy, and he and my head coach Frank Lenti have a great past. Watching them talk was like I was back at Mt. Carmel, and it felt like home.
"Also, the strength coach is amazing. There's a great weight room and a great instructor helping them. He's so self-explanatory. He expects results, and what he's done with the guys at the U of I is amazing."
Neither Coach Zook nor Coach Gilmore are Williams' primary recruiter, however. Williams's main contact with Illinois is through Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino.
"Coach Petrino is the guy recruiting me. Coach seems like a funny guy. He's pretty cool. I first talked to Coach (DAndre) Smith because I wanted to talk to Illinois badly. So I kept calling until I got an answer.
He was letting me know that Coach Petrino handles my school, and once I talked to him I got the ball rolling. He's a great guy. We haven't talked a lot, but he sends me inspirational stuff just to keep my head on straight, and I really appreciate it."
Relationships are a big deal at Mount Carmel, and Williams has formed one with a future Illini athlete who has been positive and encouraging to him.
"Tracy Abrams and I are actually pretty close. I have a class with him. I was telling him I might just go to school with him someday. Tracy's a good guy all the way around. He's a great student and a great athlete, and he welcomed me with open arms."
One of the other highlights of the trip for Williams was the basketball matchup between Illinois and Iowa. Though his view was sometimes obstructed, he got a very positive vibe from the Illini fans.
"I couldn't really see because the Krush was standing up all game. It was a good game. There were times I stood up and watched, and then the rest I just watched on the screen. Seeing all the fan support at U of I is amazing. Seeing so many people at the game and all eyes on the floor is something you just dream about."
As excited as Williams is with recruiting, he wants to make sure the timing is right before he makes a decision.
"If I don't commit before the season starts, I'll commit after the season. I don't want to commit during the season. I want to focus on nothing but Mount Carmel football and meeting our goals. Until I'm 100% sure about the university I want to go to, I won't be committing any time soon."
What are some of those goals he has for himself and his team?
"As a team I'd like to go undefeated. I'd like to win Catholic League Blue and get the title. Winning Coach Frank's 11th state title and get him the all-time wins record as a coach in Illinois would be great.
"Individually I want to be defensive player in the year, All-American or All-State. Whatever I can get. I don't want to sell myself short."
A positive attitude and a strong work ethic will propel Williams on to a great career. Maybe he'll even bring those talents with him to Illinois. Only time will tell.