Two Peas in a Pod: Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma Sooners QB commit talks Sooner Summit, bond with Lincoln Riley, his flawless football memory, and his legendary competitive spirit
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OKLAHOMA CITY — The first thing to know about Caleb Williams is that losing doesn’t sit well with him.

So much so, in fact, that his father Carl claims Caleb won’t sleep the night after a loss.

“I dread losing,” Caleb told SI Sooners. “That’s really where the competitiveness comes from. I hate losing; it really pisses me off, actually. I just feel like all the work that you put in over time, that you should have the best shot to go out and win. And I always feel like I have the best shot to go out and win with the team.”

And for all the hours that the Washington, D.C. wunderkind has devoted to his craft over the past seven years, it’s no wonder that he feels that way.

SI All-American’s No. 1 overall player in the 2021 class didn’t come out of the womb an elite passer. According to Carl, Caleb didn’t take up the quarterback position until fifth grade. It was after a particularly tough loss at the All-American Bowl that he decided to try his hand at quarterback.

“We stayed up until 3 o'clock in the morning talking about it,” said Carl. “And I told him that if he wanted to be a quarterback, he’d have to change his diet, no more fast food — I laid out all these plans for him. And at the end of it all, he told me, ‘Dad, I want to be the best quarterback there ever was.’”

Four years later, Williams beat out two juniors at Gonzaga College High School to earn the starting quarterback job as a freshman. And before he ever took a snap for the Eagles, he already had his first FBS offer from Maryland.

Now the child prodigy is a rising senior, and he’s become one of the most decorated prep players ever to grace the field in the DMV area.

“He already has all the school records,” Carl said. “He has most of the WCAC records. I think there’s maybe one or two that he doesn’t have. But he wants them all.”

To what does Caleb owe his meteoric rise to stardom as a signal-caller?

“I guess it came naturally or something,” Caleb said. “I think I learned the offense [at Gonzaga] in two months, and I was able to get on the field and translate what I learned... and that’s hopefully what I can do at OU.”

But Carl says that his son’s competitive spirit and steel-trap memory have made the monster that is Caleb Williams.

“I have to make him go to sleep at night,” Carl said. “I could shut the power off at the house, and he’d fire up whatever electronics he has and sit there and study film.”

According to Carl, his son shares a very unique talent with Lincoln Riley. It’s a well-known fact that Riley has an immaculate football memory, with the ability to recall the specifics of even the most inconsequential plays from any game he’s coached. But Carl says that during film sessions, Caleb can also remember and describe the details from just about any play in any game, even if that game was years ago.

“And everybody knows that about Riley,” said Carl. “But nobody knows that about Caleb, except for me and him and Riley.”

In the football realm, the Oklahoma head coach and his quarterback of the future are kindred spirits. And it didn’t take long for Caleb to find that out — in fact, it was evident from the moment he sat down with Riley to break down film.

“I think it was my first visit here, which is crazy,” he recalled. “We went up to the War Room — the offensive meeting room — and we were supposed to be in there for about 20 minutes. It ended up being like two hours or so, and it didn’t even feel like that [long]. The only reason we left is because we had to go get on a plane to go back home.”

It’s been nearly two months since Williams officially committed to Oklahoma. And with no fall football season to be played in D.C., he’s already looking ahead to his career in the crimson and cream. Williams is deeply encouraged as his bond with Riley continues to grow.

“My relationship with Coach Riley is awesome,” he remarked. “We call each other all the time, and FaceTime. He’ll randomly call me; I’ll randomly call him. We’ll text any time of the day.”

Typically, the latter half of August would bring the beginning of a new football season for Williams. But now that COVID-19 has deprived him of his senior year on the gridiron, Williams’ priorities are twofold: 1) enroll early at Oklahoma and be a dual enrollee at both Gonzaga and OU, and 2) recruit other elite prospects to join him in Norman.

As for the former priority, Williams says that he’s received permission from Gonzaga and the NCAA to enroll early, but also clarified that he can't graduate early. At this point, he’s only awaiting clearance from Oklahoma. And as for the latter priority, he’d direct your attention to the Sooner Summit.

In a wholly grassroots effort, Williams assembled a cast of 15 participants that met for the better part of two days to tour campus and experience Norman. The cast included three SI99 prospects in Camar WheatonTristan Leigh and Cody Jackson.

“It feels really good,” said Williams of the Summit. “And obviously, they see something, and hopefully that means a lot.”

Thirteen of the 16 Summit participants gathered Saturday night at a rooftop event space to share a meal and watch SI1000 defensive end Kelvin Gilliam announce his commitment. When Gilliam picked Oklahoma over Penn State and South Carolina, nobody was more enthused than Williams.

“It was huge; [Kelvin] told us and we were all excited for him,” Williams said. “We needed another big guy down there. He’s very versatile too.”

Now that the Sooners boast a quartet of elite 2021 defensive linemen (Gilliam, Ethan Downs, Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, edge rusher Clayton Smith), Williams has turned his attention to the other side of the trench. When he drops back to pass in a Sooner uniform, he’d love to have a significant measure of security.

“Obviously trying to finish off the offensive line,” Williams said. “We already have Cullen [Montgomery]; trying to go get Bryce [Foster]. He couldn’t make it; he was supposed to come, but Bryce couldn’t make it. Savion [Byrd] and Tristan [as well].”

And it certainly won’t hurt to have a couple more high-ceiling wideouts to catch the passes.

“Obviously trying to go get Emeka [Egbuka] and Jalil [Farooq],” Williams said. “Those are the guys that I’m really shooting for now… trying to make sure that this is the right place for them, that they feel comfortable.”

As for Williams himself, he’s perfectly at home in the Sooner State.

“This is my fourth time here,” he said. “I feel comfortable. I’ve gotten more comfortable over time. I’m trying to make sure that they feel comfortable when they come here.”

But Williams doesn’t want that comfort to extend to the gridiron. The Sooners’ recent reputation is rather ignominious for a program with three straight CFP trips under their belt. That’s largely because OU simply hasn’t been able to compete with college football’s blue-bloods come bowl season.

However, with Riley at the helm and the Sooner defense coming into its own, a return to the pinnacle of the college football landscape seems increasingly imminent. And Williams is confident that he can lead Oklahoma to the promised land under Riley’s tutelage.

“Coach Riley, he’s an offensive mastermind,” he said. “Can’t wait to get here and earn the respect of Coach Riley and the other coaches, and my teammates that are here.”

Williams fully understands the challenge before him. And though he’s just 17 years old, he’s already made a whale of an impact for his future program through the Sooner Summit. As gifted as Williams is, his own talents won’t be enough to put the Sooners in position for a national title. That’s why he organized the Summit, and that’s why he continues to recruit the cream of the crop in the 2021 class.

“Oklahoma has not gotten over that hump yet… that’s the vision,” said Williams. “The goal is to win a national championship.”

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