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PSU Football Recruiting

Size, Quickness, Versatility, Drive: J’ven Williams’s High School Coaches Talk about What Makes Penn State’s latest Commit Shine

J'ven Williams with his offensive line coach, Steven O'Neil. (Photo credits to Tim Macrina).

J’ven Williams’s first football-related visit to Penn State was a disaster. 

This past summer, Williams— who had never experienced Beaver Stadium despite growing up roughly two-and-a-half hours away in Wyomissing, a neighboring borough of Reading, Pennsylvania— went to Penn State before his junior year at Wyomissing Area High School to partake in the “Beast of the East” showcase. 

Not a lot went right, particularly when it came to 1-on-1 pass rushing drills.

“I wasn’t prepared,” Williams said. “And it showed.”

On the way back to Wyomissing, Williams called his offensive line coach, Steven O’Neil, and expressed his embarrassment. 

Less than two months later, Penn State offered Williams a scholarship.

Six schools had already offered him before that. With plenty of options to choose from, Williams committed to Penn State Feb. 5 and publicly shut down his recruitment Feb. 10.

Part of the reason for Williams’s rise is his athleticism— he’s a 305pounder with swift feet— but another part, O’Neil says, is his drive to correct any error.

“He’s going to do what he can to fix that mistake, whereas a lot of young kids… when you get on them about making a mistake, they go in the tank, and you can lose them for a whole drive,” O’Neil said. “You get on J’ven one time; he doesn’t go in the tank. He wants to improve.”

Freakish athleticism

It was in shot put, not football, that Williams first caught O’Neil’s attention back when the former was still in middle school.

O’Neil, assisting with the junior high track team, had coached Williams’s older brother, Rushard, and knew right away that J’ven was going to be a force in that area, (turns out, he is, ranking in the nation’s top five for both the shot put and the discus throw and finishing third in the PIAA Championships in the shot put as a sophomore this past spring.)

Williams didn’t join the varsity football team until his sophomore year of high school.

He impressed right away.

Head coach Bob Wolfrum, who has been at Wyomissing for 35 years, says that in most seasons, Williams would have been a regular starting lineman. But with two 300 pounders at offensive tackle on a team that went to the PIAA State Championship Game, it was harder for Williams to get playing time.

As a junior, he got his shot. 

The Wyomissing Wing T

Wyomissing runs 1950’s-style offense. 

By O’Neil’s admission, Wyomissing doesn’t pass the ball unless it has to, and most passes are usually play-action plays that don’t require the quarterback to drop back. 

The Wing T isn’t progressive, but it’s productive. Wyomissing averaged nearly 42 points per game in 2021. 

This throwback offense also requires versatility upfront, and Williams showed that he has it.

“On every Wing T play, you line up somewhere different, and blocking rules for everybody are all different,” O’Neil said. “He went and he learned all five spots, and that was very impressive. We don’t have a lot of guys that can learn all five, and he did that in a month and a half. He’s not 100 percent all the time, but he’s pretty damn good.”

Williams’s quickness could make him a dominant pulling guard. At the same time, he’s 6-foot-4 with arms that are long like a basketball center, and that could make him a formidable tackle.  

In short, Williams can play anywhere.

“I’ve talked to I don’t know how many coaches the last few months for him, and half say guard, half say tackle,” O’Neil said. “I think he could very easily do both… I think he’s going to be a valuable piece because wherever the need is for Penn State.” 

“When I talked to (Penn State offensive line coach Phil Trautwein), I said ‘what are you thinking?’ And he said ‘we’re thinking guard to start.'”

More to prove

Williams’s physical tools aren’t in question. What’s less certain, however, is his pass blocking ability, playing in an offense that seldom passes.

Penn State doesn’t run the Wing T and certainly throws the ball more than Wyomissing does. 

Wolfrum isn’t concerned.

“At some of the combines and clinics he goes to, he works on the pass pro and all that stuff,” Wolfrum said. “He doesn’t have any trouble doing it. He’ll need reps at it because he’s done it less than a lot of other guys. But when the guys see his footwork, they know that’s going to be the least of their problems to get him to do that right.”

Unwritten pages

Before Williams begins his college football career, he has two track seasons— where he wants to set the county record in shot put and and the discus throw— and one more football season— where his main goal is leading Wyomissing to a state championship win  after two straight runner-up finishes Williams will be playing defense full-time next season, so his role in Wyomissing’s operation will be even more essential. 

Individually, there’s something else Williams is striving for on the football field. 

“I want to be a five-star recruit…,” Williams said. “To be a five-star recruit means that I’m going to be projected as a first-rounder in the NFL. So that would be on my mind. I’m not going to lie; I think that is special.”

Star-ratings, however, pale in comparison to championships, and Williams hopes to win the ultimate prize both at Wyomissing and Penn State. 

“Rankings and all that, that’s awesome,” he said. “I love them. But those come and go. Championships stay.”

As with any 16-year-old, Williams has his whole career and life ahead of him. But already, he watches as much film as Roger Ebert and lives in the weight room when he’s not practicing or playing Friday nights. For O’Neil, this puts Williams on a path to achieve whatever he wants. 

“He’s coachable, works his (butt) off and family is important,” O’Neil said. “I think those are some pretty good traits.”

 

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