On a cold day late last year, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz warmed up inside of Bolingbrook (Ill.) High. He and assistant Carl Jackson were meeting with the school's highly regarded running back A.J. Johnson.
Little did the Hawkeye brass understand the magnitude of this visit. The final steps were taken to bring Johnson to Iowa, but another young man saw visions of black and gold flash in his eyes.
Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow brought then-junior linebacker Kyle Williams in to meet the Iowa representatives that day. Williams, TheInsiders.com's No. 4 ranked linebacker nationally, felt almost ready to commit to Ferentz when this magazine article went to press.
"Honestly, deep inside, I'll know in my heart," Williams said of how he will make his choice. "You get that feeling about a school. That's the feeling I'm starting to get about Iowa now. That's something that you just know. You can talk to the people and the players and you're like, ‘Man, I can fit right in here.'"
"You get to that point where you're just going to say ‘Yeah.' At that point, I'll feel 100 percent confident that this is the place that I need to be and I'm going to be and I'm going to be a Hawkeye."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior also placed Miami, Oregon, UCLA and Purdue on his short list of college choices when we spoke to him for this piece. But they were all playing catch-up with the Hawkeyes.
"After that meeting with Coach Ferentz and Coach Jackson, things started going the Hawkeyes' way," said Williams, who had liked Penn State before watching Iowa upend the Nittany Lions, 42-25, last season.
"I'm real close to committing. I'm feeling like that's the school that I need to be at. But I really want to wait and see how things iron out this season, little things like that. But if today were signing day, I would be a Hawkeye."
The arrival of Johnson at Iowa only helped in the pursuit of Williams. The two met in junior high and have been good friends ever since. Williams played fullback in front of Johnson last season. They work out every time Johnson returns to Bolingbrook.
Art Johnson played a big role in developing his son and Williams into high Division I prospects. The three men would wake before sunrise and train.
Williams, who names sleeping as one of his hobbies, struggled to get out of bed. He understood the payoff, however.
"It's tough," Williams said. "A.J. is the type of guy that likes to wake up at 5 o'clock before school and go run. That's tough. But you've got to want it. That's the thing that A.J. and his dad stress, so we did it."
Dedication produces results in the case of Williams, who runs a consistent 4.5-second, 40-yard dash (he once ran it in 4.47). The linebacker bench presses 350 pounds, squats 450, dead lifts 550 and cleans 235.
Williams loves to spend time in the weight room. He pumps iron every day during the school year and four times a week during the summer.
Football found Williams when he was seven. He followed his older brother Steve into the sport.
Steve Williams is looking into walking on at Iowa. The 6-5, 295-pound lineman is unsure of how much eligibility he as after spending two seasons at Indiana and another at Northern Illinois.
While football quickly grabbed the Williams boys' attention, Kyle first excelled on the baseball diamond. He played third base and catcher.
"Baseball was my sport right away," Williams said. "I was real good. I think if I kept playing baseball, I think I probably could have gotten drafted out of high school. I played until I was in 7th grade and that's when I started to get really good in football."
Williams also gravitated towards wrestling in his younger years. He reached the state tournament semifinals last winter before losing to the eventual heavyweight champion, 3-1, in overtime.
"I had him taken down but the ref thought that we were out of bounds," Williams said. "I think we were in. But it's all good."
An Illinois state title sits in Williams' sights before he concentrates solely on football in college. Gridiron dreams fill his head for long stretches.
"I love the physical play of football," Williams said. "I like how you can just unload on people, just hit them as hard as you want without getting in trouble."
Williams likens his style to that of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, who might be the best example of the new-age stars at the position. Leaving are the plodding linebackers waiting to drill running backs when they approach the secondary. Arriving are blown-up strong safeties.
Iowa starting linebackers Grant Steen, Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge represent the evolution.
"The position has changed," Williams said. "In the old days, the linebackers were mean and they could hit real hard, but they'd be real clunky and you couldn't send them out in pass coverage. When people ask me why (colleges) are attracted to me, I say it's because I can play the run extremely well, I hit very hard and I can also cover like a defensive back. The game has changed a lot in that aspect."
Iowa fans might see Williams teaming up with Hodge and Greenway next season. The prospect would like to start as a true freshman.
"I think that I have the ability to," Williams said. "I'm very physical, but when you go to college, it's a different level. So, you've got to adjust to it. The mental part of it, like learning the defense and knowing all of your keys and stuff, that's the thing that I have to catch onto really quick. I'm a really smart guy, so I think I could if I can get myself on the field."
Williams is a blue-collar player from a blue-collar family. Kyle's father, Steve Williams Sr., works at NICOR. His mother, Nyoka, runs a daycare in the basement of their house. His sister Tiffany attends DuPage Community College.
The Williams family has helped young Kyle keep his newfound fame in perspective.
"I could be the No. 2 linebacker in the country and all of that stuff," Kyle Williams said. "But when you're named something like that or considered like that, you can't just stop and say, ‘I'm the No. 2 linebacker in the country, so I'm the stuff and I don't have to work hard, so I can just walk around like I'm everything.'"
"At that point, you've got to step it to another level and work harder so everything can just keep coming. If you work hard, you don't know where it will take you. You can take it to the NFL someday or be an all-American in college. It doesn't stop in high school."
While playing close to home would be nice for the Williams family, Kyle is more interested in being at a place where the people create an atmosphere that feels like home. Kyle sees that in the Iowa staff and players.
A lot of players put off their college decision until the end of the final prep season in order to avoid distractions. But if Williams has not already chosen a school before you have read this story, a decision might be coming soon.
"I think I'll play with it during the year," Williams said. "I'm very focused on my season. I'm not easily distracted. But if I do see it getting kind of overwhelming or distracting, I might just decide to wait until the end of the season."
Williams likely will encounter plenty of distractions this fall. They come with status. He hopes to prove he is worth all of the attention.
"There's going to be people around the state knowing that I'm the No.1 prospect," Williams said. "They're going to come to Bolingbrook to watch the games. There's going to be scouts. I do feel like I've got to prove myself. If I'm No. 2 in the country, I've got to play like I'm No. 2. I have to send people away from my games saying, ‘Man, that Kyle Williams is extremely good. I've never seen a high school player like that.' That's my goal. I want to send them away from the games shocked that I played that way."
And maybe if they're impressed, they'll also follow his college career, which could very well see him wearing black and gold. KYLE WILLIAMS BREAKOUT BOXES
Kyle Williams Up Close
Name: Kyle Williams
High School: Bolingbrook (Ill.)
The Skinny: Brings great speed, cover skills and athleticism to the outside backer position, making him an attractive prospect to so many college defensive coordinators. His brother Steve played football at Indiana and Northern Illinois.
Quotable: "I do feel like I've got to prove myself. If I'm No. 2 in the country, I've got to play like I'm No. 2. I have to send people away from my games saying, ‘Man, that Kyle Williams is extremely good. I've never seen a high school player like that.' That's my goal. I want to send them away from the games shocked that I played that way."
Chicagoland is Hawkeyeland
The Chicago metro has been responsible for producing several high school players who went on to earn starting roles for the Hawkeyes during the Kirk Ferentz era.
(Recruiting Class/Player/High School)
'96 / Kevin Kasper / Hinsdale South
'97 / Anthony Herron / Bolingbrook
'98 / D.J. Johnson / Naperville Central
'98 / Andy Lightfoot / Maine West
'98 / Chris Oliver / Homewood-Flossmoor
'98 / Eric Steinbach / Providence Catholic
'99 / Jon Beutjer / Warrensville South
'01 / Matt Roth / Willowbrook
This story first appeared in the October 2003 Issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine and is an example of the 'feature' based content and writing that appears in our monthly publication.
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