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Lincoln Riley: New quarterback Caleb Williams was 'willing to walk on'

Williams father confirms to SI Sooners that while Brock Vandagriff was committed to OU, his son still wanted to come to Norman and play for Riley and the Sooners

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said Wednesday that can’t-miss quarterback Caleb Williams – the Sooners’ headliner in the 2021 recruiting class and Sports Illustrated All-American’s No. 1 overall player – was “willing to walk on” at OU while Brock Vandagriff was Riley’s only scholarship offer.

Riley recapped his ’21 class during a video press conference and was asked both about Williams’ recruitment, his skill set and what ultimately drew him to the quarterback from Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School.

“First was the skill set,” Riley said. “I mean, the skill set is really, really good. I mean, it’s the type of athleticism that you love to have, combined with a very, very strong arm talent – you know, fantastic arm talent. He checked all the boxes from a physical standpoint.

“Probably one of the most telling things that drew me to him was when we had a previous player (Vandagriff) committed, he and his father were willing to come here and walk on. And not many people would have been willing to do that.”

“That is true,” Williams’ father, Carl Williams, told SI Sooners Wednesday in a text message. “The scholarship was not a determinant factor in our decision. Never made the spreadsheet. If we decided that this was the best place for him to help him reach his ultimate goal then he would enroll as a regular student, walk-on, and see what happens. Competition makes you better.”

Riley said OU offered Williams a scholarship “fairly early” and got to know him as a recruit through his previous connections at Gonzaga.

But then Vandagriff committed, and Riley backed off from Williams.

“Because I knew we were only gonna take one (quarterback),” Riley said, “and I’ve always been very honest with guys like that.”

On New Year’s Day, though, Vandagriff, a 5-star prospect from Georgia decommitted.

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“Things changed,” Riley said, “and we went back after Caleb hard – and there’s no doubt at that point he was the guy I wanted.”

Riley called it a “great process” and said Williams and his family were “amazing throughout the entire time. Caleb was great, very forthcoming. Neat kid. Just loves football and loves to compete and obviously has a really, really great skill set.”

Williams committed to OU on July 4, then his senior season was pushed back to the spring. As the pandemic evolved, Williams decided he would move to Norman and become the Sooners’ top recruiter.

“He certainly became one of the leaders of this class,” Riley said. “Obviously his recruitment was a lot of fun.”

Riley has had plenty of players enroll early. But he’s never had one move to Norman into off-campus housing with his family while still in high school.

“I just think it shows you the confidence that Caleb has in himself,” Riley said, recalling Williams’ eagerness to walk on but also clearly a statement on his decision to relocate.

“Like I’ve said about many of our guys before, I just don’t believe you can play that position at a high level if you don’t really believe in yourself,” Riley said. “I think Caleb the entire time felt like this program, this offense, this system, all that, could really maximize him as a player, so he felt very strongly about that.

“And you can’t deny that kind of self-belief. And he backs it up. It’s not an arrogance. He works hard at the game. The game’s important to him. He trains really, really hard for a guy his age.

“So the skill set, the natural confidence and the charisma he has, you feel like he has the every tool to have a chance to be a really good player.”

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