Before Juwaan Williams makes the cross country trek from Tucker, GA, he's got some business to handle.
At the moment, he's traveling with the Tucker Tigers basketball team on a road to the Georgia State Championships. Soon, he'll give an “I'm moving away but not forever” speech to his ten year-old sister and three-year-old little brother. And sometime in between, he will suit up for the Senior Prom while the Ducks do the same for their spring game.
Williams' immediate future is certain, but his position with the Ducks football program remains "to be determined." As of now, he's listed as an "athlete."
The only guarantee? Open competition.
“They have spots where you have opportunity to play. I think with my outlook, dedication and work ethic, I can get into one of those spots and have a small role my first year.”
For the past two years, Juwaan has played primarily at quarterback and defensive back, with receiver as needed. What's a D1 coach to do?
“His versatility is what's sold him and hurt him all the same,” said Franklin Stephens, Williams' coach for three years of his high school career.
“He was recruited as a receiver and DB by different schools. Offers came from Nebraska, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Vandy and a couple others. I think Juwaan is one of those kids who chose Oregon because his heart is at receiver.”
“All of my high school years I've been a factor on the offensive side of the ball. I like having the ball in my hands so I can create something for our team,” said Williams.
The Oregon staff has done a good job of making kids understand that anybody can fight for a position, and it's been this culture of competition, and of course, serious talent, that got guys like Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall in the game as true freshman.
“Right now, in talking with Coach Neal and Coach Helfrich, they don't know exactly what position they want me to play, it can go either way. I don't know what to expect once I get up there, but I prefer offense. I'll have to wait it out.”
Talking to Juwaan reminds me of Dion Jordan: big heart, big laugh, and a genuine willingness to move around as needed. But still, he wants the ball in his hands, especially in the type of offense Oregon creates.
“I wanted to go somewhere that they spread the ball out a lot. We'd get multiple opportunities to catch the ball on either side. I think the way Oregon does it, they don't have one main receiver they go to. They like to get their passes off their run game. As long as DAT is having a good game or any RB is having a good game, the defense is going to key on them, and it makes Mariota's job getting it to us easier.”
So there's that, but then there's the physicality required in Oregon's “You Don't Block, You Don't Get the Rock,” school of receiving.
“In the offense I run here, I was a blocking receiver the majority of the time my sophomore year, so it's a comforting feeling to know I've been there.”
A lot of talk about the offensive unit, but it was actually secondary Coach John Neal who recruited him.
“I'd told a lot of coaches early on that Juwaan was going to be the best kept secret coming out of Georgia,” said Stephens.
Guess someone in Eugene was paying attention.
“He came every three months or so, whenever he had a break. He has family here in Georgia. We talked on the phone or when he came to visit. Coach Helfrich came at the very end for my in-home visit.”
Neal has a way of making a hard sell to the Southern kids, including safety Brian Jackson from Hoover, Alabama. And trust me, I grew up two hours south of Birmingham; selling Oregon is quite the accomplishment in SEC country. Or at least it used to be.
“Everyone here, when they think of Oregon, they think of De'Anthony Thomas, all the accolades he's had. You think of all the speed he has on the field,” said Williams of his the impression the Ducks make in Georgia. “When we do make it to the BCS National Championship, the smack talk is that some of the SEC teams will be bigger than us. But we've been there before and we can go there again.”
Coach Stephens told me that he used to get on Juwaan about being a mama's boy. The kid loves him family, so moving so far away will surely be tough when August comes around.
“When we were in Eugene, my mom and I had talked about the distance, but she was confident she would make her way out there. She loves me to death and would do anything to come see me play. Her and my father, as soon as they get their tax return, they're purchasing their three game tickets.”
Summertime is still a ways off, but the magnitude of this life transition is not lost on Juwaan.
“It tears you down inside when you see your team mates, knowing you're not going to get to play with them anymore on Friday nights. But then you get great hope of playing on the next level, Saturdays, Thursdays, a bigger crowd, bigger opportunities.”
The bright lights of Autzen await...
Follow Juwaan's journey to Eugene on twitter.
*Next week, I'll profile Doug Brenner out of Jesuit and Damian Hobbes from Cedar Hill, TX. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Oregon Bio For Juwaan Williams
6-0, 181, Tucker, GA (Tucker HS)
Few prospects possess the versatility as the three-star honoree (Rivals.com) who is listed among The Sporting News Top 125 . . . Among the most difficult decisions could be which position he is best suited for . . . Excelled as a starter at safety and wide receiver as a sophomore before concentrating his efforts at quarterback and the defensive secondary his final two years, capping his prep career with 1,569 rushing yards (8.5 avg.) and 38 touchdowns . . . The dual-threat quarterback completed 40 of 80 passes for 703 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 while carrying the football 103 times for 752 yards and 11 scores . . . Named first-team all-Dekalb Country and all-region as an offensive standout while leading the school to the state championship quarterfinals in 2012 . . . Completed the year with a 10-3 ledger and second place in the AAAAA Region 6 standings under head coach Bryan Lamar . . . Selected to quarterback teams in the East-West and Georgia-Florida All-Star games . . . Led the Tigers to a state championship victory and an unblemished 15-0 record as a quarterback his junior year . . . Passed for 558 yards on 28 attempts and seven touchdowns and rushed for 617 yards and 11 touchdowns on 82 carries in 2011 … Also recorded 13 tackles and three interceptions as a junior and was named to the Rising Senior Bowl that same year.