Bryson Williams laughs about the accelerated recruiting timeline that culminated with him picking Wisconsin in a matter of weeks. When the 6-foot-2 defensive tackle from Lincoln (Neb.) Southeast High School released his top five list of schools on June 16, Wisconsin was nowhere to be found.
That’s because the Badgers hadn’t offered him a scholarship. On June 20, however, everything changed when Wisconsin entered the fray. Three days later, Williams visited campus. And on Wednesday he announced his decision via Twitter to join the Badgers’ 2018 recruiting class.
Bryson Williams commits to Wisconsin
— Bryson Williams (@brysonjw_18) July 5, 2017
“The coaches made me feel different than any other place I’d been,” Williams told Land of 10. “I had Wisconsin as one of the schools I wanted to get in contact with since I started my recruiting. After a great visit with all the coaches, I thought that was the place to be.”
The decision concluded a whirlwind spring during which Williams’ national profile significantly elevated, garnering him more than a dozen scholarship offers, including several from the Ivy League. Williams received his first FBS scholarship offer from Kansas State in February. But the frenzy increased after he performed well at both the prestigious Nike The Opening camp in Chicago on April 2 and the Rivals 3-Stripe Camp on May 21 in St. Louis.
Williams’ initial top five consisted of Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Virginia Tech and Duke. Oddly enough, one team not in the recruiting picture was Nebraska, despite the fact Williams attends high school a mere four miles from Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.
Williams, a 3-star prospect who ranks as the No. 3 player in Nebraska and the No. 63 defensive tackle in the country in the 247Sports composite ratings, did not receive a scholarship offer from Nebraska coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers had already offered in-state defensive tackle Masry Mapieu, who committed in June 2016.
“At first, I guess I was kind of surprised,” Williams said. “I never paid too much attention to it. Just thinking about it, what is that going to do? Coach Riley sat me down and gave me a talk on the reasoning why they weren’t going to. It was respectful. No hate against them.
“They offered that Masry kid that they even agreed that I was better than. They just offered him way before my name kind of got out. It is what it is.”
Williams cited his work ethic as a contributing reason for his rise in the recruiting ranks over the last year. During the school year, he said his day consisted of 5:30 a.m. workouts before school, a weight-lifting class during eighth period, practice and another weight-lifting session.
Southeast Lincoln football coach Ryan Gottula described Williams as a positive influence whose competitive drive pushed him to excel and inspired teammates.
“Bryson as a defensive tackle, his first six steps are outstanding,” Gottula said. “He’s a quick kid off the ball and plays with a great motor. He’s going to give you everything he’s got every play. And he’s really worked hard to play with great technique. I also think he’s pretty versatile as far as what he can do on the defensive line. For us, he plays a number of different positions.”
Williams said he has increased his weight to 302 pounds and runs a sub-4.9-second 40-yard dash. His athleticism and strength showed during his junior season, when he recorded 58 tackles and earned second-team Super-State honors. Williams also won a state shot put title in May, surpassing a competitor on his final throw of the event.
“I’ve just been working ever since I decided I wanted to play college football someday,” Williams said. “I’d call myself kind of a natural leader. I was my school’s first-ever captain as a junior. I think I perform better against adversity. I never put my head down. I always try to improve on things. That’s just kind of my character.”
Unlike many players who attend school in the shadows of the Cornhuskers’ footprint, Williams said he didn’t dream of playing at Nebraska. He grew up in Rockford, Ill., which is roughly 90 minutes from Madison, before moving to Lincoln before his freshman year of high school. Once Nebraska moved on from Williams, he made it his mission to find a school that wanted him, and he soon became the 17th commitment in the Badgers’ recruiting class.
Williams visited Wisconsin while his younger brother attended a basketball camp on campus. He met Wisconsin’s coaching staff and came away particularly impressed with first-year defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. The 5-foot-8 Leonhard, a former walk-on who became a three-time All-American safety at Wisconsin, capped a 10-year NFL career before joining the Badgers’ program as defensive backs coach last year.
“At first, you look at him like, ‘This dude played in the NFL for all those years?’ ” Williams said. “Then you talk with him and he just talks like he has the mindset. You know what he’s been through, all the progression of him being a walk-on. Getting to play 10 years in the NFL. It was awesome.”
Wisconsin’s depth chart also played a factor in Williams’ decision. The Badgers have three juniors on the roster at nose guard — Olive Sagapolu, Jeremy Patterson and Billy Hirschfeld — but were in need of reinforcements. Badgers defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield, the lead recruiter on Williams, helped convince Williams that Wisconsin was the school for him.
“I know they have great returning players coming back,” Williams said. “They have a great defensive line coming back this year and a few guys behind them. I can see them being really good in the future.
“Coach told me, ‘I’m not going to guarantee you that you’re not going to redshirt. I’m not going to guarantee that you’ll redshirt. You’ve got to work for whatever, and we’ll see what happens.’ That’s what I respect the most.”