With two dozen additions via the transfer portal, it’s easy to lose sight of just who Indiana really has coming in ready to play in 2023.
If IU had landed E.J. Williams out of high school, he would have been heralded as the second-highest rated recruit of the rankings era in program history. The Phenix City, Ala. product was a national top-100 talent, the kind of player IU doesn’t get unless their name is McCullough and they are the son of a coach.
Of course Indiana didn’t land Williams out of high school. The kind of program that lands players like Williams got him — Clemson. And his freshman season at the national powerhouse only served as confirmation that he was properly evaluated as a high school star.
As a true freshman at Clemson, Williams started the final four games of the season and posted 24 catches for 306 yards and two touchdowns. The best game of his career came in the ACC title game against Notre Dame that season when he had four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and many other wideouts from Clemson, Williams was on the fast track to the NFL.
But it didn’t happen.
He posted just nine catches in 2021, and just seven in 2022.
So what went wrong?
Injuries and dropped passes have been part of the story with Williams over the last two seasons. But he points to something even more basic.
“Part of it was trust, the coaches didn’t trust me as much, and I’d say part of it was my fault, but it was kind of hand in hand with no trust,” Williams said earlier this week.
Williams arrived at IU in the winter ahead of spring practice, so he’s well initiated in Walt Bell’s offense and the culture at IU. The IU receiving core has struggled over the last few seasons to create separation. And beyond Cam Camper, who is in the final stages of rehabbing from a knee injury, the Hoosiers don’t return meaningful production from the 2022 campaign.
So the opportunity is wide open for the 6-foot-3 and 200-pound Williams, and his new head coach likes the current trajectory.
“E.J. Williams is just elevating, just keeps getting better with confidence,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said.
With a fresh start in Bloomington, new IU receivers coach Anthony Tucker sees Williams back on the right track.
“Earlier in his career he played a little bit more. In order to get good at football you have to play football,” Tucker said. “He’s got a ton of reps since he’s been here, he’s been in our offseason program, spring and I think he’s in a really prime position in his development and what he’s doing for us to get what he came here to do.”
There is little doubt Williams has the size and athleticism to win a major role at Indiana this year. He’s already produced multiple scores in the spring and fall.
But he knows helping IU win in the Big Ten, and catching the eyes of NFL scouts will require much more than flash.
“Really I just want to show that I’m a great downfield blocker, can put it all together, run after the catch, make the tough catches most of the time, most of the routine catches that I know I can do,” Williams said.
Williams has been through the highs and lows of Power Five college football. Now entering his fourth season, he has a perspective that can only be gained through that kind of topsy-turvy journey.
Everyone believed in him coming out of high school. And everyone believed in him after a breakout freshman season at Clemson.
But Williams now knows, what everyone else believes doesn’t matter.
“It starts off with yourself first,” he said. “You’ve got to believe in yourself and go out there and make sure that you’ve got everything that goes into your job in tact and make sure you know what you’re on the field so you can go out there and play free, that’s the main thing.”
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