What Jonah Williams did to football players his own age bordered on inhumane.
He bullied them with freakish strength, his burly arms exploding out like pistons to the chest of some poor chap expecting trouble and then gasping for air while on his back. This happened in the trenches at guard or tackle.
Williams’ game film while at Folsom High School had to be seen to be believed, showing unleashed fury from a bearded, analytical fellow driven to be great. His coaches would stop practice drills amid a cluster of downed bodies – imagine a cartoon scene with dust clouds – to remind, “Jonah, you’re demolishing our own guys! We need those guys!”
Williams is still in demolition mode.
The 6-foot-5, 295-pound freshman has started every game at right tackle this season for unbeaten Alabama. The Crimson Tide seek to defend their national championship Monday night against Clemson in Tampa, Fla.
Eight times this season, Williams was named by Tide coaches as the team’s Offensive Player of the Game. His highlight film continues to impress, including No. 73 chugging 50 yards downfield to block someone on a touchdown run. Alabama position coach Mario Cristobal said during a recent media-day session that Williams is, “the best I’ve seen” adding, “he’s humble and hungry. Everything he does is geared toward greatness.”
The Folsom coach who helped Williams add technique to the brutality will be in Florida to soak in the title game. Kris Richardson was moved to tears when he learned that wife, Kelly, secured tickets.
“We’re just so excited for Jonah,” Richardson said Sunday afternoon. “I’ll be watching Jonah on every snap. Just incredible what Jonah has done. And with those man arms and his beard, he looks like a 35-year old. Just awesome.”
Richardson said pride and work ethic continue to fuel Williams, with whom he keeps in regular contact via text messages.
“He was always strong and eager,” Richardson said. “The way he’d launch kids in games was incredible, cartoonish. He’d mash one guy, then get to the linebacker and bash that guy, then look for another. He never quit. He still plays that way.”
A Georgia native, Williams figured the best way to blend in as a new kid on the Folsom campus in 2014 was to outwork everyone in the weight room, classroom and on the athletic fields. He used that same approach as an early enrollee at Alabama a year ago. But his welcome-to-’Bama moment was sobering.
Shortly after his arrival, Williams was handed shoulder pads and instructed to get into some drills. He faced Tim Williams, and watched the Tide linebacker race past him.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’ ” Jonah Williams said during a media-day session. “I’d never gone against a guy that fast. That was the biggest ‘Oh crap!’ moment for me.”
By fall camp, Williams proved that he belonged, leading defensive end Jonathan Allen to say: “You forget he’s a freshman. He’s going to be something fierce.”
“It’s been great,” Williams said of his season. “There wasn’t a big shock for me going into the season. When you get to practice with these guys, it’s a case of iron sharpening iron. You come in quietly and you work. You get thrown into the fire, and you either make it or you don’t.”
Of comparing high school players to college players, Williams said: “My friends, my parents, coaches, everyone was always saying, ‘You’re doing a really good job against this high schooler that’s going to technical school after this. You’re about to go against (Jonathan Allen) and these guys in practice.’ That was always the thing for me. You’re doing well, but there’s always someone better.”
Williams was motivated even as a youngster. As a 12-year-old, he immersed himself in the family’s makeshift weight room in the basement, determined to transform a skinny frame into a hulking one. Williams was born big, nearly 12 pounds and all of 22 inches. He ate voraciously and filled out. Williams’ high school coaches praised his parents for great parenting. Dane and Katherine returned the kudos this week.
“We were quite blessed to have landed in Folsom with Kris and Troy (Taylor) teaching Jonah such an incredible amount on and off the field,” Dane said. “I’ve never been a fan of study hall or teacher-assistant periods with our kids – academic classes preferred – but the TA period Jonah had with the coaches was a great learning experience, just by listening, asking questions, watching Troy actively designing plays on his tablet. A lot of football intelligence gained.”
Dane, Katherine and kids Jadon and Sierra are in Tampa. The cartoon figure in the family now is 8-year old Jadon.
“He’s Jonah’s biggest fan,” Dane said. “Cheering, dancing, yelling. Just in it. He knows the fight song and game rituals more than any of us.”