BELLFLOWER, Calif. — On a sunny November afternoon before his final home game at St. John Bosco in a short-sleeve team polo surrounded by palm trees, Kourt Williams looked like he was in paradise.
Why would anybody want to leave here?
The four-star defender smiled and laughed at the comparison between his hometown in Southern California and where he was heading after signing with Ohio State, arriving in the middle of a winter that only by Midwestern standards has been mild. But Williams had a whole list of reasons he was ready to rattle off for choosing the Buckeyes, and if the only real tradeoff was getting adjusted to colder temperatures, that was a deal he was more than willing to make.
“You know, I’ve always been watching football since I was little, and I wanted to play in really, really big-time football,” Williams told Lettermen Row. “In recent years, I’ve let my parents know that I wanted to get away from home, I wanted to see new things, explore new things and open my horizons, get out of my comfort zone. So, Ohio State is one the best football programs in the country, and I felt like it would be a good fit.
“When I get to Ohio State, it’s going to be a little adjustment at first. The little things, the weather, the time difference and stuff like that. But in terms of football, I mean, it’s nothing that I haven’t experienced already.”
Even with the rich tradition and what amounts to a college-lite experience at storied St. John Bosco, that might not be entirely true — especially now that strength coach Mickey Marotti has hold of Williams and the Ohio State early enrollees after their arrival this week. His experience in a major high-school program, the fact that another product of the Braves in Wyatt Davis was already with the Buckeyes giving advice and his willingness to embrace new challenges certainly bodes well for his transition, though.
And at the risk of oversimplification, the recruitment of Williams rather neatly sums up the current state of the program for Ohio State and the caliber of people the coaching staff is targeting.
“First off, Kourt Williams, I’ll be surprised if he’s not a captain when he’s here,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I’ve said that to him and his parents a million times. They’re probably tired of hearing me say that. He’s a state champ in California, which is not easy to do. He comes from a great program, same program as Wyatt Davis, and the coaches at Bosco do an unbelievable job. To go and win the way they did in the state championship, play the way that they played, he’s playing at a high level, and he’s got a lot of versatility.
“He can do a lot of things. You can use different things with them, and those are the kind of guys you want.”
On Senior Night with the Braves, Williams only needed two plays to put his dynamic ability on display, blitzing off the edge and arriving in a hurry for a tone-setting sack early in what would be an easy blowout victory. Williams lined up all over the field, was as comfortable in coverage as he was supporting the run and was unmistakably the leader of a talent-filled defense.
That on-field versatility combined with a mature approach to all the off-the-field responsibilities fit what Ohio State wants perfectly. And as that reputation has solidified with the Buckeyes shedding the label as a football factory, their brand has opened even more doors across the country — including in sunny Southern California.
Yes, the track record of developing players for the NFL Draft helps. But Williams was just as quick to point to the academic programs at Ohio State and the success of the Real Life Wednesday sessions as he was his potential to fill the Bullet position during his career in Columbus, which is why the relationship wound up being such a priority for both the coaching staff and the player.
And needing to invest in more sweatshirts and coats now isn’t going to deter players like Williams from flying across the country to be part of it.
“I’m ready to go all in,” Williams said. “I talked to the coaches about it all the time, and I just have to be prepared mentally when I get there — and I think I’m ready to go.”
The way Ohio State is rolling now, odds are Kourt Williams won’t be the last guy to leave those palm trees behind to chase championships through a bit of snow.