November 11, 2010

MSU culture impresses Williams

Two days after Matt Williams took an official visit to Michigan State, Spartan offensive line coach Dan Roushar and running backs coach Brad Salem paid a visit to Williams' junior college, North Dakota State College of Science.

Roushar, who would be Williams' position coach if the big offensive tackle chooses Michigan State, and Salem, who is Williams' area recruiter, stopped in on Tuesday and watched film of NDSCS's recent games and to touch base with Williams' coaches, said NDSCS offensive line coach Mike Shafer.

"When you watch Matt on film, he can kick set, he moves quick, he can bend," Shafer said. "He can pass protect with the best of them. He has that down. The only thing he has to work on is the run game, getting stronger, that physicalness. But he is making excellent progress in that area. He has only played football for a few years. He only got about 60 or 70 snaps in last year, and this year, it took till about the 400th rep for him to really start to get it as a run blocker and start to take off. He has a huge future in front of him."

An athletic marvel at 6-foot-7, 285, Williams came to the U.S. from England at age 16 in order to play basketball at a New Hampshire prep school. There, he discovered football and has made an amazing rise as an offensive line prospect.

"On his film, I saw him running down field and racing past defensive backs," Shafer said.

He worked as a reserve last year at NDSCS, and vaulted into the starting lineup, and the national recruiting picture, this fall.

He has taken official visits to California (Oct. 8) and Michigan State (Nov. 5). He will take an official visit to Illinois this weekend, and will visit Florida State the weekend of Nov. 26.

"We were holding a fifth visit in case something came up, but at this point there are no plans for a fifth," Shafer said.

Williams has offers from each of those schools, in addition to offers from Arizona, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, UCLA and others. He is ranked the No. 44 junior college prospect in America by, and the No. 6 juco offensive line prospect in the nation.

Williams, a native of Liverpool, England, took in No. 10-ranked Michigan State's 31-8 victory over Minnesota.

"He loved it," Shafer said of Williams' visit to Michigan State. "He loved everything about it.

"He was texting me nonstop throughout that day. He said the best thing was hanging with the players and the coaches. He said, 'Coach Shafer, it was unbelievable how the coaches are just like you. It felt like I had known them for two years, just like you.'

"I said, 'That's the Upper Midwest. We're Upper Midwest guys, Salem, Roushar, they're from around here, they're the way we are.'"

"He said he loved the atmosphere, said the school was fantastic. He's enjoying the process and pretty excited. He is going to have a tough decision."

That's because he enjoyed the trip to Cal-Berkeley too.

"He loved it, enjoyed it out there," Shafer said. "It was a great atmosphere. Cal-Berkeley, you can't beat the academics. He had a great time with the players and the coaches were very open to him and told him exactly what they wanted to do with him."

Williams didn't know the sport of football existed five years ago, much less major college football. But he has become a quick learner.

"He came back from Michigan State and said, 'I kind of like these visits,'" Shafer said. "He's seeing everything. He said Michigan State was just awesome. He really enjoyed it. He said he's glad he chose Michigan State to be one of his visits. He said it was different than California. Well, it's two completely different parts of the country, where the culture is different. He enjoyed every minute of it.

"He liked how the coaches and players interacted. He just kept telling me it was a different feeling. He said it was a good feeling, just different.

"And I said they are all going to be different. I said Illinois is going to be different, and Florida State is going to be real different."

The misty 40-degree temperatures in East Lansing last weekend didn't bother him a bit.

"He loves the cold weather," Shafer said, "cause that's how he grew up, that's the way it is in England. The first year he was here, when it got cold and rainy, he got all excited and said, 'Let's go outside!'"

Williams is eligible to enroll in January and participate in spring practice.

"He wants to hopefully get his decision done in the first week of December," Shafer said. "He is looking for the best fit for him, education-wise. It's not going to be about the hoopla and the big lights, the big shows. He is looking for the comfort of the whole program, how the guys get along and how the staff treats the players."

COMP's TAKE: I haven't seen film of Matt Williams yet, but Coach Shafer paints an interesting, positive picture, one that the coaches at MSU, FSU, Cal and Illinois obviously agree with.

With Williams being a bit behind in terms of physicality in the run blocking game, Shafer said some schools are recruiting him with the idea of probably redshirting. Others expect him to put on weight quickly, continue his steep slope of improvement and compete to get on the field right away. It's unclear if MSU sees him as a redshirt candidate or an immediate-compete guy, but the Spartans definitely have a sudden need at offensive tackle. MSU will graduate two senior offensive tackles after this season.

Henry Conway and Zach Hueter were expected to be rising the ranks to compete for one of the starting offensive tackle jobs, but Conway's future is in doubt due to a neck injury, and Hueter has had trouble staying healthy since the day he arrive in East Lansing. Current redshirt freshman David Barrent is progressing steadily as a second-string tackle, but the Spartans could use an extra, mature body in the talent pool, and Williams is obviously one of the more intriguing line prospects in the nation.

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