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Caleb Williams Lands With New Team, but His Larger Goal Remains the Same

The quarterback transferred from Oklahoma to USC last month, looking to reunite with coach Lincoln Riley and boost his chances in the NFL draft.
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Caleb Williams’s daily alarm rings at 5 a.m.

He arrives at the USC football facility around 5:30 for a two-hour workout, then grabs the same breakfast each morning (a ham sandwich and an acai bowl) before heading to class, a tutoring session and an afternoon player-led football walkthrough.

At the end of the day, he returns home to a new apartment that’s missing something: furniture.

But who really needs a couch, coffee table and recliner when you’re quarterback Caleb Williams, the most high-profile transfer of college football’s new free agency cycle and the newest star in the city of Angels?

Williams, the No. 1–ranked high school recruit last year who starred as a freshman at Oklahoma before signing with USC last month, has spent the last two weeks in an L.A. hotel room juggling makeup classwork, NIL endorsement appearances and twice-a-day football workouts. He acknowledges that it’s been rough.

“Traffic here sucks,” Caleb says, laughing, during a recent interview with Sports Illustrated.

OK, not everything is perfect, but there are good things, too. For instance, he and his father, Carl, got to watch last weekend’s Super Bowl from the lower seating area of Sofi Stadium. He is also enjoying the weather—a Washington, D.C., native who spent the last year in Norman, Okla., he is experiencing his first 80-degree February. He signed a handful of new NIL deals, as well. He has partnerships with Beats by Dre and AC+ION Water, a new pH balanced water that will launch in March with Caleb as the face of the company. He recently has also become part-owner of the grooming brand Faculty.

“Two years ago or one year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be selling water or any of these other things,” he says.

But he’s not in L.A. to sell products. He’s in L.A. to develop as a football player. That’s why he chose USC.

“You have to think about NIL,” Caleb says, “but to think about it as it is your only focus and it isn’t football anymore, that’s not the case with me. I have dreams and aspirations of getting to the NFL, being great there and beating all of Tom Brady’s Super Bowls and passing records. I want to beat all of those.”

Williams is the face of a changing game as one of the first breakout stars since the NCAA lifted restrictions on athletes entering endorsement deals, and it’s no accident he finds himself in a city where stardom oozes and bright lights shine.

“There are more opportunities here than anywhere else,” Carl Williams says. “Hollywood is here!”

The ultimate goal for Caleb Williams and his family, though, is for Caleb to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft. “We narrowed down [the programs] to the people that could help him get prepared to attain that goal,” Carl says.

Caleb entered the transfer portal on Jan. 3 and committed to the Trojans on Feb. 1. It was a month’s worth of phone calls, text messages and emails from more than 30 suitors. The family trimmed the list down to three: USC, UCLA and Wisconsin. Describing the portal as “purgatory,” Carl handled overtures from the schools, spoke to coaches and vetted his son’s options.

“You don’t know where you’re going,” he says. “We had no clue. We were honest. We didn’t know if we were going to stay at OU, but we knew we needed to look. People were calling us from everywhere.”

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One of those included Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who struck a chord with Carl. If Kiffin were at a different school, maybe Caleb would have thought more seriously about playing for him.

“Lane Kiffin was fun. I liked Lane,” Carl says. “It was going to be tough for us to go to Mississippi. Other guys were trying to put on a show. ‘You can change the trajectory of our program!’ Dude, we don’t care about your trajectory, the school colors and buildings. It’s who can get this kid ready for the NFL.”

USC provided a reunion with Lincoln Riley, Caleb’s coach at Oklahoma who has developed a lineage of college quarterbacks turned NFL starters, including Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. There was also a natural connection to California. When he was in seventh grade, Caleb remembers vacationing there and visiting colleges. The top three schools on his first list of destinations: USC, UCLA and Stanford.

“He’s an L.A. kinda guy,” says Danny Schaechter, Williams’s high school offensive coordinator at Gonzaga College High School in D.C. “He’s got the appearance of a star in some ways. It’s where you can become a star.”

Williams’s friends describe his look as “drippy,” swaggy and unique. Instead of boring suits, his game-day outfits are more in line with the latest fashion trends. From designer jeans to custom Jordans, from cargo pants to Yeezys, to the more than 100 pairs of shoes he owns, Williams often looks more like a fashion model. And good luck catching him wearing the same ensemble in the same month.

Beyond clothing, Williams looks up to the nail-painting “SWAG” of American rappers ASAP Rocky and Tyler the Creator. Williams’s pinned tweet is a message he posted on July 3 and one made famous by Jay-Z.

“He’s got a unique sense to him,” says John Marshall, a receiver for Navy who was one of Caleb’s teammates at Gonzaga. “He’s got a unique swagger. He’s not like the rest—that’s his statement.”

Between Instagram and Twitter, he has nearly 200,000 followers. His Instagram page is full of shots you might find on a fashion model’s website. It puts Williams ahead of the NIL game, says Jim Cavale, the CEO of INFLCR, a digitally based NIL company. Athletes who profit the most from NIL are the ones who have an additional skill off the field and build their brand off of it.

“The magic is when somebody has both,” Cavale says. “Caleb is a guy who really gets it.

That’s the key—thinking about these massive audiences tied to non-sports things.”

But, as Carl likes to say, it’s not NIL, it’s NFL.

“Are we betting on NIL for a couple of million (dollars) or betting on the guaranteed money that is the NFL?” Carl asks.

Now, Caleb Williams’s days are more focused on developing himself as a player and leading a turnaround for a West Coast powerhouse. Carl, who spent the past week in L.A., says Caleb has three full-time jobs: school, football and NIL.

“My days are packed,” Caleb says.

Schaechter knows how crammed the 19-year-old’s life is. He occasionally sends him the same motivational message, a mantra that dates back to their early days together at Gonzaga High.

Stay on the beach.

It means to relax and remain focused but enjoy things. Don’t get too high or low, Schaechter says. Sometimes, the coach simply texts Williams a palm tree emoji. He gets the message.

Stay on the beach.

Now, in his new home, Williams is quite literally on the beach, or at least a few miles from it. Schaechter chuckles. “It’s a perfect fit.”

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