#1 talks about #1

John Jackson wore #1 as a WR for USC from 1986-89 and left school as the all-time leader in receptions with 163. He was All-Pac 10 in both football and baseball in addition to being an NCAA Top Six scholar. These days J.J. is the color commentator for the high school game of the week broadcasts on Fox Sports Net 2. In this feature he talks about the current #1, Mike Williams, and gives his thoughts on the progress we have seen this season from the talented newcomer.

I give a lot of credit to the USC coaching staff for seeing the potential in this kid after some schools in Florida wanted to make him a tight end because they looked at his size and just stuck a label on him. Our coaches did their homework while recruiting him and recognized the skills that make for a good receiver and I bet the schools that wanted to make him a tight end are regretting that decision.  I think it shows a step up in USC recruiting from what we've seen in the past because you've got to do your research to know what a kid can do and what his limitations are, I think SC did that in this case while a lot of other schools either didn't do it or made a bad evaluation.  It says a lot because sometimes in high school you have these great athletes and nobody really knows where they're going to play.  Daylon McCutcheon was a running back and safety at Bishop Amat and he turned out to be a pro cornerback.  Somebody saw enough in Daylon at some point to make him a corner.  Randy Tanner was an Amat running back who got turned into a receiver at SC.  A lot of it is vision from the coaches on where a guy can be best, the ability to make moves based on what a player does well.  This staff has shown with guys like Matt Grootegoed, Frank Strong and Kori Dickerson that they can take a player with certain skills and move them around to highlight those skills. 


The main thing is that Mike has exceeded the expectations of everybody, the coaching staff knew he was going to be good but for a guy just coming out of high school he's done more than could be expected.  People need to understand how hard that is to go from graduating high school in June and then basically getting one month to practice at the college level before going out and playing in a game, it's very hard to do.  I feel strongly about freshmen taking a redshirt year right away to get adjusted but he has shown the ability to succeed and the only thing that can slow him now is complacency.  He needs to show the effort to improve and get better like he has this year because he's shown this kind of improvement without getting the benefit of real practice time.  During the season you're practicing for games, not really practicing to work on your technique, so the fact that he's gotten better as the year has gone along is impressive.  Most players making the adjustment from high school to college will tell you the biggest difference is the speed, the college game is just so much faster and you can't do all the things you used to do at the high school level.  He has done a good job of adapting because the speed of the game hurt him earlier in the year and might have led to some of the dropped passes.  You have to think faster, you have to play faster, you have to be quicker with your feet…all these things play into it and not to mention the fact that he was learning a new system.  A lot of people will look at the drops and say it's concentration or something like that but he just needed to adjust to the game more than anything.  Don't get me wrong, he still got off to a good start but compared to the standards he has set recently it was a relatively slow start.  Does he have room to get better?  Yes.  I think he's a great freshman receiver but is he a great receiver in terms of the national college level?  Probably not yet.  He does have the ability to get there, however.  One of the best things that Mike has going for him is that he has the physical ability to excel in college, a lot of guys don't have that and never will but he definitely does.  If he continues to work hard and improve there's no reason to think he won't be a first-round pick by the time he leaves SC. 


At this point he really plays the ball well.  When the ball is in the air he positions his body well in terms of utilizing his height, it's one thing to have the height and another to use it right.  On a fade route he will go up and get the ball by using his body in the right position to make the catch. There are some players who have amazing skills but don't know how to use them properly to gain an advantage.  With the exceptional skills that Mike has, which are height and leaping ability (he's a great athlete), he also utilizes them on the football field and he's done so much better than I would expect from a freshman at this point.   


The biggest thing he's going to have to work on during his career is speed because as he gets older he's going to get bigger and it's crucial that he maintains his speed while it happens.  It will be a combination of finding the right body weight for him to play at while increasing the speed because if he gets too big it will have a negative effect.  It's natural to assume that he's going to grow since he's only a freshman and it will be something to keep an eye on.  Another important thing for Mike will be route running; getting in and out of his breaks and creating separation.  Those will be keys for him as he goes through his college career.  Good route running is all about body control and he runs above average routes right now but one benefit for him is that defenses are designed to stop the USC offense, not to stop Mike Williams.  That's a big difference. We have a lot of weapons right now and he is surrounded by veteran players so he's kind of been able to sneak up on people.  For me as a freshman and even as a sophomore it was easier because you're running free a lot, you don't get those one-on-one match-ups with their best corner following you all over the field.  As he gets older he'll find defenses designed particularly to stop him and that's when he'll need to be more creative with his routes.  We've seen it happen with a player like Reggie Williams this year at Washington, opposing teams think if you shut down Reggie Williams you can stop them so it's become much more difficult for him to have those 10 catch, 200 yard days.  The final step to see is how he develops his leadership aspect.  A lot of times it's hard for a receiver to play a major leadership role but as he goes into his junior and senior year he'll become the veteran and the one who will need to be the on-field leader because he'll be the guy with all the experience and all the accolades. 


These two games coming up are obviously going to be the biggest he's ever played in but I think good players, and Mike is a good player, have the ability to block out the significance of the game and just go out there to play football.  These two games are almost like a dream come true for a player but people react in different ways.  Hopefully he will recognize the moment and realize this is the first of many big games for him and really enjoy it.  Don't overanalyze it, don't stay awake at night thinking about it….just go out there and play football.  I don't worry too much about that for him though because Mike has a lot of good leadership around him.  It's really been an ideal situation for him to develop this year, he's emerged as a top receiver but there wasn't the pressure on him to be the top receiver.  He's surrounded by a senior quarterback, veteran receivers who have played, some good running backs and a good tight end, it's a good situation for a young guy to come in to.  It's also a tribute to him with all these guys around that he's been able to shine and do well.  One of the things that I've noticed with this team is the players are starting to understand that when you win everybody is a star.  When you lose they will pick out the one or two guys with the big stats and say they did well.  When you win all of a sudden everyone is a good player, they all get recognized as good players who have contributed to the winning season SC is having.   I was a good player at SC but the fact that my team won and I helped them to win made me look like that much better of a player.  At the beginning of the season Carson Palmer wasn't considered for the Heisman Trophy, wasn't even mentioned as a candidate, but now that the team is winning his accomplishments are magnified and some people are saying it will be a crime if he doesn't win.  If the team wasn't winning we wouldn't even be hearing his name with the Heisman hype and Mike Williams would be just another good receiver to watch for in the future.  Winning brings a lot of recognition and these players deserve to benefit from their success. 


Man, it feels good to see #1 doing great things, I always want to keep it in good hands and I love the fact that Mike is wearing it. Hopefully we'll see the jersey in the bookstore soon, that's when you know you're going well is when you can walk into the store and buy your jersey.  I told Daylon McCutcheon when he took #1 that we needed to make that number a symbol of USC.  Because it's the #1 we need to keep up the tradition and Mike represents it well.

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