Miles Williams saved his best for last.
After working his way through the Justin-Siena football program as primarily a defensive player over his prep career, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior showed that he’s more than just a talented linebacker this past fall.
He stepped up as a leader on both sides of the ball for the Braves and helped guide them to an 8-4 season by becoming one of the best two-way weapons in the county.
As a tight end, Williams finished his senior year with team highs in receiving yards (1,134), touchdown receptions (15) and pick-sixes (2) while tying for the team lead in interceptions (3) and getting the second-most sacks (8). His 18 total touchdowns was also a team high for Williams, an All-Vine Valley Athletic League First Team selection. He was also a finalist for the Napa Valley Register’s 2019 All-County Football Player of the Year award.
Thanks to his monster senior season, Williams, who had zero offers when the season ended in late November and figured he would play at a junior college, finally began to attract the attention of college programs in January.
His recruitment ended last week when he decided to sign with Marshall University, an NCAA Division I program in Huntington, West Virginia, as a preferred walk-on.
“I wanted to find the best place for me, somewhere I could improve myself not just as an athlete but as a scholar as well,” he told The Register after announcing his decision last week. “I wanted somewhere I could find the mix of the two, and Marshall happened to be the best choice for me.”
As a preferred walk-on, Williams said he won’t receive any athletic scholarship money but has secured some financial aid through academic scholarships. He said he plans on studying criminal justice – like classmate Grant Koehler, who committed to Pacific University a few weeks ago.
Marshall has played in a bowl game five of the last six seasons. The Thundering Herd finished second in the Eastern Division of Conference USA last season with a 6-2 record and went 8-5 overall.
August of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the infamous tragedy that brought Marshall notoriety. In 1970, a plane carrying members of the football team, coaching staff and program boosters crashed, killing all 75 passengers on board.
The crash and subsequent return of the program was the subject of several films, including “We Are Marshall” in 2006, a film Williams said he and his dad watched recently to learn more about the school.
Recruited to play on offense
Williams also said that while several other smaller schools recruited him to play defense, the Herd staff want him to line up with the receivers on offense.
“He has a knack for making plays in big moments in big games,” said Justin-Siena head coach Brandon LaRocco. “That’s been the case since he got to us. He’s always had the natural instincts to go make plays. He’s a very aggressive football player. He’s got good height. Not the biggest dude, but he brings the thump when he plays. He’s matured a lot over the years and I think he took on more of a leadership role this year in his work ethic and how he practices, and I think that goes a long ways.
“You put Miles in a college weight program for a couple years and he’s going to look like a real different kid. I’m excited for him. I think he has really high upside as he grows and learns how to play the receiver position more and commits to a college weight program. I think that’s all going to make a world of difference for him. I think his future is very bright.”
Like Koehler, Williams made his decision with little fanfare. With a shelter-in-place mandate still in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams simply celebrated with his family.
“Signing Day would have been great to have, with a whole bunch of people like every kid dreams about,” he said. “But, honestly, I was just happy I got to get another chance to keep playing football outside of high school.”
The opportunity to do so has been a dream of his since he was a kid, he said. The pull of that dream only grew stronger as he started to garner recognition throughout his stellar senior campaign. He said he was inspired by the younger kids who lauded him after games or who approached him in public to let him know they looked up to him.
“It became not just playing for myself but also for playing for the people that enjoyed watching me as well,” he said.
While his passion and belief have been there throughout his career, he still needed to get the attention of college programs if he wanted to continue playing at the next level. His senior season took care of that. He said he received his first offers in January from small schools in the Midwest. Bigger schools followed, such Western Oregon, Sacramento State and Cal Poly.
All-Star success, coaches helped
Much of this newfound attention for Williams was the product of a combination of standout all-star game performances and the Justin-Siena coaching staff reaching out to college coaches.
“It just kind of kept stepping up, which is great to see because I think Miles’ potential is through the roof,” LaRocco said. “He’s still relatively new to the receiver and tight end position, so I think there’s room to grow there.”
Marshall was actually one of the final schools to reach out and offer Williams. He said the Herd were up front about their situation – how they had already filled out much of their roster but liked what they saw from him, and were willing to offer him a prove-it spot as a preferred walk-on.
While he could have taken the smaller-school route, likely with more playing time and a larger role, he jumped at the prospect of playing Division I football. He said competition is what made him the player he is today and he figures if he takes that same mindset to Huntington, he’ll carve himself out a role just like he did at Justin-Siena.
Williams has been one of the busiest football players around since finishing his senior season with the Braves’ second-round playoff loss on Nov. 22.
He was named Most Valuable Player of the Bay Showcase in December, earned Defensive Most Valuable Player honors at the Tri-County All-Star Game on Jan. 12 after returning an interception 50 yards for the winning touchdown, volunteered to coach a seventh-grade team in a 10-week flag football league, and helped the Justin-Siena boys lacrosse team get off to a 5-1 start. Due to COVID-19 concerns, his fourth season of Braves lacrosse was shut down after its March 7 game.
Before he heads east, Williams will continue training at home. He has weights set up in the garage and works on route running and footwork with his dad in the backyard.
“With going the preferred walk-on route at a big school that’s getting top-tier talent, since I am preferred walk-on I’ll be at the bottom of the barrel. But I just want to prove myself when I go there,” he said. “I decided that I’m going to push myself as hard as I can go with how much work I put in and how much time I can earn on the field as well as in the classroom.”
“I just want the coaches to see that I’m well-suited for that, enough to give the starters and guys they really trust a run for their money.”
Contact Gus via phone at 707-304-9372 or email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustGusMorris.
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