Collin Drafts got out of the press box for a couple reasons.
For starters, the monsoon that enveloped West Orange vs. Olympia had shorted the offensive coordinator’s headset. He couldn’t call plays. On top of that, the deluge meant the pass-first plays the Olympia coach had been calling weren’t working. So Drafts relocated to the sidelines, got soaked and looked his potential solution in the eye.
Freshman running back Dexter Williams looked back.
“Hey man, run as fast as you can, let’s see what happens,” Drafts told Williams. “Truth be told, I’m not sure what he was thinking in his mind. He looked nervous. But first touch, it looked like he was shot out of a cannon. We knew we had something special.”
Williams spent that entire game running jet sweeps. That’s it. He only touched the ball a half dozen times but averaged better than 10 yards per carry when he did. The four-star running back spent the next three seasons at Olympia growing into a national recruit before transferring to West Orange last spring.
Tomorrow Williams will make another move, signing with Notre Dame or Miami. The one-time Hurricanes commitment remains torn on his decision, backing away from his Miami pledge last month and visiting Notre Dame. Miami wanted Williams to officially visit last weekend, but the running back stayed home in Winter Garden.
Wherever Williams inks, Notre Dame or Miami will get a plug-and-play back four years in the making.
The spring after he got that freshman taste of Friday nights, Williams ran track at Olympia, meaning he missed some of spring football. After a session of sprints, Williams hit the weight room with the football team for one of his first off-season lifts.
“We’re up to 415 pounds on the squat and he jumps in, bangs it out,” said strength coach Dustin Hectorne. “I wasn’t going to make him do anything and he wants to max. The kid’s a freak.”
Williams spent the next couple years picking Hectorne’s brain on lifting techniques and competing against teammate John Armstrong, who just finished his sophomore season at Wake Forest. After one session Williams pulled Hectorne aside because he wanted to learn how to master snatches.
“Most high school guys are not capable of that lift,” Hectorne said. “Then he’d get back out on the field running ladders, sprints, getting in more lifts. He’s extremely competitive. If there was something he couldn’t get, he’d work at it until he did.”
When Olympia head coach Bob Head left for West Orange after Williams’ sophomore season, the running back stayed behind for his junior year. Running back and staff reunited last spring at West Orange. Last November the school won its first playoff game in program history when Williams went head-to-head with four-star Florida State commitment Jacques Patrick, a one-time Irish target.
West Orange, despite playing a backup quarterback, topped Timber Creek 42-21 as Williams carried nine times for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s been a great kid to coach,” Head said. “He’s a hard worker and very passionate about being a good football player. His work ethic has carried him.”
Notre Dame made its final recruiting pitch Friday afternoon when running backs coach and area recruiter Tony Alford visited West Orange for the last time before National Signing Day. While Williams has called Notre Dame his leader, he’s also talked about Wednesday’s signature in uncertain terms.
“Miami is not one to give up on him and Notre Dame is not giving up on him either,” Head said. “It’s gonna be a challenge. Dex is a young man, he wants to please, doesn’t want to tell people no. That represents a problem.”
Williams is scheduled to ceremonially sign his letter of intent around 11 a.m., although Head said he hoped to have the paperwork faxed off an hour earlier. Head credited Alford’s approach in coming after his star running back, even when that included backing off.
“Coach Alford knows what he’s doing and he’s on the right kids,” Head said. “To me, it was very professional that he never talked to Dexter when he was committed to Miami. Some recruiters just say, ‘Hey, look at my school, you do the research.’ Tony does the research for them, puts the information in front of them.”
Williams and Alford have been in regular contact the past few weeks, often talking multiple times daily. Just how much those messages were received should become clear Wednesday morning when a kid who broke into high school football running jet sweeps takes his game to the next level, officially.