Despite growing up less than three hours away from Happy Valley, J’ven Williams didn’t grow up bleeding Blue and White.
Sure, he was familiar with Penn State’s colors– his friends, teachers, peers, etc., were and are Penn State fans– but Williams didn’t grow up idolizing Penn State or any other college football program.
He’s always been a New York Giants fan, a love passed down by his father, Rushard– but his heart never belonged to a particular college team.
It took Williams more than 15 years to go to his first game at Beaver Stadium.
When he did, the atmosphere took his breath away– even though Penn State was playing Villanova and not Ohio State or Michigan.
The same day of that game, Penn State became the seventh school to offer Williams as a high school junior– a 15-year-old, no less– and he almost committed right then.
After Wyomissing played in the PIAA State Championship game in December, he almost committed again.
“It was really simple for me,” Williams said. “I looked at all the schools that offered me or just (colleges) in general… and Penn State had something that, really, no one else could give me. That was great football, a great environment, great academics, my family being able to come to my games, every single game, me being able to come back home whenever I really want to. That’s really valuable to me.”
Williams’s first experience at Penn State was at the “Beast of The East” showcase this past summer. It didn’t go the way Williams wanted.
“I didn’t do too well,” he said. “Didn’t do too well.”
But Williams wasn’t to be deterred. Through Ross Tucker, a former NFL player now with his own recruiting business, Williams got his name out there, and it wasn’t long before the offers started rolling in.
His first offer, somewhat ironically, came from the University of Pittsburgh Sept. 20. Over the next three days, Boston College, Temple, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Illinois invited Williams to be part of their family.
When the Penn State offer came, it was a different feeling.
Of course, the recruiting power of coach James Franklin came into play.
“He’s a celebrity where I’m from,” Williams said. “So I was starstruck to meet coach Franklin. He seems so genuine, so caring. It was almost hard for me to say no to an offer like that.”
Williams is the No. 1 ranked player in Pennsylvania for the 2023 class according to 247 Sports’s site rankings, and if that holds, it will be the second straight year Penn State has gotten the No. 1 player in the state, with running back Nick Singleton already on campus from the 2022 class.
“(Franklin) gave me like a whole sort of spiel saying he wants to keep the best in PA in PA,” Williams said. “He told me that he cared about me, and he told me how I’d developed from the camp, and for him to remember me going to that camp, it meant a lot.”
Franklin’s reputation as a master recruiter has been in place for years, but offensive line coach Phil Trautwein is starting to carve out a reputation of his own for getting talent to Penn State.
Four of Penn State’s eight commits for 2021 are offensive linemen, and as the most recent of them, Williams looks forward to Trautwein’s tutelage.
“I love coach Trautwein,” Williams said. “He reminds me a lot of my current o-line coach (Steven O’Neil). I have a really strong relationship with my o-line coach, and I’m starting to build that with coach Trautwein.”
When Williams and his classmates arrive on campus, the upcoming class of 2022 will be sophomores.
Williams is aware of the talent he’ll presumably be joining.
“(Quarterback) Drew Allar is a beast,” he said. “Nick Singleton, I actually trained at the same gym as him. We have the same trainer, so I know how hardworking he is… It’s really cool to be able to team up with him and be able to block for him and be at the front of a run play and have him score touchdowns behind me. I’m excited.”
Like anybody in his position, Williams’s primary goal is to make it to the National Football League. As far as his time in college goes, Williams– who is academically ahead by a year and will graduate high school before his 18th birthday– wants to be more than one type of All-American.
“I want to be (an academic all-American),” he said. “It’s the same thing as being all-league, all-conference, all-American. That’s really what I want. I want to be not only all-academic but all-American also. That, to me, would be super special because that shows not only that I’m elite on the field, but I’m elite in the classroom also.”