When he made his decision to visit Ohio State for its game last weekend, Antonio Williams tried to be as understated as possible about his plans for the immediate future.
"I will be visiting this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, I'm not sure what's going to happen. I just know I'm going to watch a heck of a game" Williams told Eleven Warriors prior to his trip, making it a point to not tip his hand about his pending decommitment from Wisconsin and flip to the Buckeyes. "That's all right now."
The visit went well. Well enough that Williams, the country's seventh-ranked running back, committed to the Buckeyes publicly Sunday morning before his car ride back to New London, North Carolina, pop. 600.
"I loved it," Williams said of the visit. "The fans are die-hard. I got there around 1:40 p.m. and there were already people tailgating so I was surprised. As the day went on, (the visit) got better and better, turning into something I couldn't even imagine. It was great."
It was the feeling of euphoria on Saturday, coupled with a long-term relationship with Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford, who started recruiting him while he was an assistant at Notre Dame. That combination helped him know Columbus was the right place to spend the next three-to-five years of his life.
"I just felt it was the right time (to make it public)," he said. "I knew it was the right place. The right time just came up while I sat in Coach Meyer's office with him and Coach Alford."
Meyer's history of successful running backs, highlighted by All-American type seasons by Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott since he arrived at Ohio State, didn't hurt the Buckeyes' cause. Williams was honored by the comparisons he received from the Ohio State staff and couldn't pass up the chance to be one of the next players to get a chance at continuing the long legacy of great Buckeye running backs.
"(Urban) Meyer said I remind him of a combination of Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott," Williams shared. "When I started really getting into football I was watching this guy on the sidelines with Tim Tebow. Now he's wanting me?
"(I couldn't pass up) the opportunity to play for great coaches like (Urban) Meyer and (Tony) Alford, to become a better man from these two," Williams continued. "I'll get to compete for a national championship every year and play closer to home where my family can come watch and also to receive a great degree."
Ohio State has a running back commitment from Kareem Walker, ranked as the country's top back, but that hasn't stopped or slowed down Williams' interest in the Buckeyes. He knows there's a chance Walker ends up alongside him in Columbus and he's welcoming the challenge and competition if it ends up that way. He's as confident as he can be in his capabilities, regardless of who is there with him.
"Every conversation I've had (with the Buckeyes) has been about Antonio Williams and Ohio State," the former Badger commit said. "There's a great opportunity that I'm taking advantage of definitely, and the early playing time talk has been there. I feel that I'm coming in to work harder than any other back and make Ohio State have to play me because of my work-ethic and my ability. I want to be the best. If I prove it, I know coach will play the best player, so the early playing time has been talked about, but there's always steps to get there."
Williams, who Thursday was extended an opportunity to play in the O-D All-American game, might have been a bit overlooked in his recruitment, despite his four-star status. His physical traits and mental makeup are certainly highly sought after. He says that rankings don't matter, but he's not afraid to use them to grow the chip on his already broad shoulders.
"Ratings and all of that don't really matter to me. Respect does, I feel that a lot of people don't respect my game, but I think the way you earn respect is just by showing those people you are one of the best," the 5-foot-11 pound wrecking ball said. "All the rankings and yardage and all of that will disappear come next season; I'm coming in to be the hardest worker there. I could be unrated and it wouldn't make a difference to me."
His ranking aside, the comparisons to some of the country's best running backs – as affirmed by Meyer – are well-earned. Williams knows his game isn't perfect, but he feels like it's on par with anyone in the nation.
"I feel that I'm just a compete back honestly. The last 40-yard dash I ran was a 4.42, I'm right at 220 pounds, I'm very strong and have great pass-catching ability," Williams said confidently. "I feel I'm a complete guy that still can improve in every single area."
One adjustment that could prove the roughest for Williams, who will enroll at Ohio State in January, is going from a town of 600 to a school of nearly 50,000. Not one to worry, the running back said the size of the Buckeyes' campus was a plus during his visit. His father and his high school coach made the trip with him.
"(The campus was huge) and that's something I liked about the visit, and my dad fell in love with the place," he said. "I'm used to being around bigger groups, because I've traveled a lot so it's not a big deal to me.
He's also likely to be benefited by the (at least) six other early enrollees who will be making the transition with him. He began strengthening some of those relationships this past weekend and he's got plans to be in Columbus at least once, and maybe twice, more in the next handful of weeks.
"I've actually known Austin Mack for a decent amount of time now," he said of the Buckeyes' wide receiver commit. "I also got to talk to Jonathon Cooper and Michael Jordan some, too. Those guys are really cool and I look forward to meeting some of the other guys. I'll take my official visit in December but I might be back for the Michigan State game, too."
On his next visit, Williams will explore a bit deeper the future he'll have at Ohio State, including more time spent with the academic side of the program. Despite only seeing a little bit of the school, he has an idea of what he's looking to major in as a Buckeye student.
"I'm looking into either psychology or philosophy," Williams said of his academic goals. "I like to think I'm a deep thinker and I enjoy things like that."
Part of being a thinker is knowing when you're walking into a potentially life-altering situation and understanding that not everyone will be on your side. Williams has decommitted from two schools – including the hometown Tar Heels of North Carolina – and has seen the ugly side of sports. His social media mentions have been littered with insults and he's seen people that he thought to be on his side turn on him without hesitation as he's navigated through his recruitment. Despite the ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns, he's not going to complain. He feels he's where he's supposed to be.
"I'm used to taking heat," Williams said of the scrutiny and attacks. "It's an unfortunate part of success. Fans are 'fans' as long as you're doing what they like to see. I hate to say that because the good fans are what makes it so great to play the game but it's the truth."
"Where I am from, we're small, a tiny school, man, but it's home to me," Williams concluded. "I'm just a blessed individual and I thank God all the freaking time for doing what he's done and guiding me like he has."