Lincoln Riley has a decent track record with playmakers from Florida.
In 2021, he added another in slot wide receiver Mario Williams.
Williams was so impressive in high school, he was named the No. 24 player in Sports Illustrated All-American’s SI99, and he was the top-ranked slot receiver and the third-ranked pass catcher overall.
“From wire-to-wire, the slot receiver discussion began with Mario Williams,” SIAA recruiting director John Garcia Jr. said. “All eyes are always on Mario Williams and he always, always lives up to really lofty expectations.
“He’s he's got everything you want in a slot receiver.”
Williams will have extra time to acclimate to Riley’s offense, as he was one of the now 10 mid-year enrollees for Oklahoma.
Garcia, a fellow Florida native, has had the chance to get his eyes on Williams in person at least a dozen times over his recruitment. Going up against the best competition, the dynamic Williams always impressed on the recruiting camp circuit, Garcia said.
“Whether it's his ability off the line against bigger, longer defensive backs, whether it's his route construction, or most importantly how he performs at the catch point despite his size,” Garcia said, “we see elite slot receiver traits.”
Williams isn’t just a one-trick pony either.
“He's not just one of these camp guys,” Garcia said. “If there's a ratio of guys who impress at (camp) events versus games, (Williams) would have one of the best ratios in the country in terms of backing it up on Friday nights.
“I watched two of his games in person just this year — double-teamed, triple-teamed, he’s still pulling in multiple touchdown catches.”
The Plant City High School product only stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 178 pounds, but his explosiveness reminds Garcia of an established NFL playmaker.
“(Williams) really reminds me of T.Y. Hilton, who plays for the Colts, just in terms of —yes, he's a smaller guy, but he really compensates for it with great pound-for-pound strength, unbelievable quickness and route-running ability,” Garcia said.
Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is essential for any slot receiver, and it’s an area where Williams excels.
“(Cornerbacks) need to win at the line of scrimmage to affect your timing, to affect the route, and ultimately to affect, you know, whether or not you're going to move the sticks or not, and that's where Mario maybe shines brightest,” Garcia said.
Oklahoma’s success on the football field isn’t the only reason the Sooners caught Williams' eye. He has aspirations to follow in the footsteps of Kyler Murray, who was drafted in the first round of both the MLB Draft and the NFL Draft to go along with his Heisman Trophy.
During his Early Signing Day press conference in December, Riley lauded how well he and OU baseball coach Skip Johnson have been able to collaborate to get the most out of their two-sport athletes.
“I thought we really worked well together,” Riley said. “Anybody that's got aspirations, they can look at OU and say, 'Not only do I see that they'll give me that opportunity, but two, I can see that it can be done at a high level.' I think that's helped us in a lot of ways. Certainly a lot of two-sport athletes, it's caught their eyes. Mario was no different.”
Inevitably, Williams will draw comparisons to Oklahoma’s last great wide receiver out of Florida, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Not only do they play similar positions, but they have somewhat similar builds in that they are both undersized speed burners.
Despite the similarities, Garcia said the manner in which Williams and Brown produce will look a lot different.
“I think (Brown) is a different type of threat than Mario Williams. At the same stage, (Brown) was much skinnier, taller, longer and faster. I think Mario is more compact, quicker and more technical than Hollywood,” he said.
“The comparison will remain just because they're both from Florida and they went to Oklahoma and are guys who make big plays. But I think Hollywood is a big-play guy before the catch, to where Mario has a little bit more potential after the catch based on on his ability.
“But obviously anything close to the production that Hollywood provided would be would be pretty great for Sooner fans.”