Maleek Williams' rushing yards total as a junior (664) was modest for a high-major running back prospect as he split time in Punta Gorda (Fla.) Charlotte's Wing-T offense. But his efficiency (11.3 yards per carry) and big-play ability (12 touchdowns) stood out.
"I didn't have a high rushing number, but if you watch my film, you see I have power, size and speed," Williams said. "I made the best of my abilities last year because I averaged 11 yards per carry."
That game tape has caught the attention of dozens of FBS programs, including several power-five teams. Williams reports scholarship offers from Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, Purdue, Boston College, FIU, FAU, South Florida, Western Kentucky, East Carolina and others.
The new Illinois staff is especially making an impression. Illini running backs coach Thad Ward is prioritizing Williams -- a 6-foot, 200-pound back who has the blend of size and speed the Illini desire -- is in consistent contact with the Florida native. Ward plans to watch Williams' spring game next week.
"He's a great person, and I know he's going to be a great coach," Williams said. "Me and him have a really good relationship. I think I've talked to him every other day really. He's showing me a lot of love."
Williams said the Illini's hiring of Lovie Smith opened his eyes.
"Definitely the NFL experience of this staff (sticks out)," Williams said. "They have over 50 years I think of NFL experience on the staff. They're definitely a program on the rise. The coaching staff seems like they really care for me, and they have Hardy Nickerson and Lovie Smith, and those are two NFL (greats)."
Arkansas and North Carolina are the other programs near the top of Williams' current list.
"Arkansas is famous for their running style and their running backs," Williams said. "North Carolina, I don't know because I like North Carolina and all but I think they're going to be hit by the NCAA with the allegations. I don't know about that."
What's next for Williams in the recruiting process?
"I'm definitely going to try to have a huge spring game to try and set the tempo for next year and see what I bring to the table," Williams said. "Definitely after spring, I'm definitely going to (visit) Illinois. Without a doubt. That's the number one spot I have to go to. Then I'm going to go to North Carolina and Arkansas probably."
While Williams is enjoying the recruiting attention, he said he doesn't want to cheat his high school team.
"I've seen Division I athletes when I was a freshman and sophomore, and I've seen how they handle stuff, what I should do and what I should not do," Williams said. "I learned from them good or bad. I'm just trying not to let all this stuff get to me and be committed to my high school and don't get too much involved in my college because I'm still on my team. Sometimes I feel like kids think about college too much and they forget that you got to play your high school games and make your team better."