LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley on Monday touted new cornerbacks coach Donté Williams as a “dynamic addition” to the Huskers’ staff with the “personality and demeanor to connect and relate to his players.”
The 34-year-old Williams’ most immediate impact could be made on the recruiting trail.
A Los Angeles native who worked, among other jobs, at three California junior colleges and three years at San Jose State before spending one year at Arizona, Williams is plugged into the Southern California talent pipeline. So much so that he had helped Arizona, which limped to a 3-9 season, start to compile a top-25 recruiting class.
His departure may hurt the Wildcats — and help the Huskers just as much.
Just ask the Los Angeles prospects and coaches who would know.
“He can relate to us since he’s from the same background as us,” said Jamire Calvin, a four-star Los Angeles Cathedral High School receiver who remains uncommitted but is strongly considering Nebraska. “And he’s a super cool and funny guy. And from a (defensive back) standpoint, he knows his stuff. He’s a really good coach, and that’s why he had so many kids committed to him.”
Mil’Von James, the coach at Los Angeles Hawkins High School — where Nebraska remains in the running for five-star wideout Joseph Lewis and four-star athlete Greg Johnson — praised Williams’ abilities as a recruiter.
“Donté Williams brings a great energy and go-get-’em attitude in recruiting,” James said. “He attracts kids. It’s going to be interesting seeing him on Nebraska’s staff.”
He will become NU’s fifth defensive assistant, coaching cornerbacks and assisting in pass defense coordination for nickel and dime substitution packages. Williams will make $400,000 in his first season and $425,000 per year as of Feb. 1, 2018. Current cornerbacks coach Brian Stewart will coach safeties. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker, who coached safeties in 2016, will return solely to coordinating.
Williams ostensibly is the replacement for special teams coordinator Bruce Read, a long-time Riley loyalist who made $450,000 per year and was fired two days after a 40-10 loss to Iowa. Riley said on Sunday his decision to fire Read wasn’t made “overnight” and was done quickly to give Read a chance to find a new job. Nebraska’s whole staff will handle special teams, Riley said.
By making a coaching spot open immediately, Riley had the ability to hire Williams and put him to work recruiting this week. He’ll also coach Nebraska’s corners in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl.
“I am truly blessed that Coach Riley thought highly enough of me to join his staff here at the University of Nebraska,” Williams said in a press release. “Everything I have seen in Lincoln has completely raised my expectations of what I know we can accomplish here! I look forward to continuing the success of the Blackshirt defense under Coach Riley and the whole Big Red Family!”
A call to Williams’ cellphone was not immediately returned.
Riley said in a release that Williams will bring “great energy and expertise to our defensive coaching staff.” The release also called Williams “one of the nation’s top young recruiters and defensive coaches.”
Like many young coaches, Williams has made many stops early in his career. He graduated from Culver City (California) High School and played college football at Syracuse and Idaho State. After two seasons in the Arena Football League 2, Williams began his coaching career with one year each at Los Angeles Harbor College (2007), El Camino College (2008) and Mt. San Antonio College (2009) before working as assistant linebackers coach for Nevada (2010) and as a graduate assistant at Washington (2011-12).
Mt. SAC coach Bob Jastrab said Williams recruited several players who later helped the team win a junior college national title.
“He’s a very good coach, but he’s an excellent recruiter,” Jastrab said. “He has an eye for talent, and, as a coach, that’s important. You’re only as good as your talent.”
Williams worked three seasons (2013-15) as San Jose State’s secondary coach and also was the recruiting coordinator for his last two seasons. In 2015, Sports Illustrated named Williams a top-10 recruiter in college football.
That’s roughly the time he began building a relationship with Johnson, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound athlete Hawkins used at a variety of positions over four seasons, including quarterback, running back, wideout and cornerback. James, Johnson’s coach, said Williams made the effort to recruit Johnson even though there was little chance Johnson would attend San Jose State.
When Williams took the Arizona job in January 2016, the relationship had been cemented. Johnson committed last spring.
He decommitted from Arizona on Sunday night, announcing his decision on Twitter. James said he expects Johnson, the nation’s No. 1 athlete prospect according to 247Sports’ composite service, and Lewis, a top-50 national prospect, to attract major recruiting attention this week. Alabama, among other schools, will be in. Rose Bowl-bound USC is so close to Hawkins High School that students can see the Los Angeles Coliseum from their classrooms.
But Williams is more deeply embedded in the Los Angeles community than most. And James said that’s important for Los Angeles athletes, who can sometimes think, “Why leave L.A.?”
“The mindset is that, ‘Everything is here, so why go anywhere else?’ ” James said. “But we encourage them to be open-minded and visit everywhere.”
Williams, with his background, is the kind of guy who can say, “It’s OK to leave L.A.,” James said. Plus, current Nebraska wideouts coach Keith Williams and Stewart have done a “phenomenal” job of recruiting Hawkins, James said. Now, with the addition of Donté Williams, the Huskers could be even more formidable in Los Angeles.
“With those three working in L.A., I think it bodes well for the future of Nebraska football,” James said.