Miami Southwest defensive back Christopher McWilliams was so torn between schools leading up to National Signing Day, the decision came down to how he felt Wednesday morning when he woke up.
Despite strong pushes from UM and USF, McWilliams stayed true to his commitment to the University of Florida, announcing it in a ceremony at Southwest and becoming the first football player from the school to sign with one of the “big three” Florida programs in 35 years.
Although his decision came down to the wire, he wasn’t going to pull any tricks. The UF visor he wore was the only hat in sight as he sat in front of a plaque that enlisted the University of Florida as his school of choice.
His relationship established with the UF coaching staff was too strong to tease with the drama of a Signing Day hat trick.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about loyalty,” McWilliams said. “The Gators have been there since Day One. They’ve been loyal to me since the process got going, and I felt I needed to give the loyalty back.”
The official visit McWilliams took to Gainesville over the weekend made a lasting impression for the Gators, especially considering his relationship with co-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
“Everything there is like family, even people who don’t even play football — it’s the love for the Gators,” said McWilliams, who had 73 tackles and six interceptions, including one for a touchdown, as a senior.
But the decision was indeed made tough, notably by a late surge from the hometown Hurricanes. Miami was initially recruiting McWilliams during Al Golden’s tenure, but in the coaching staff’s transition, UM’s recruitment of McWilliams became dormant before jumping back into the picture in January.
The Canes were actually assisted by the recent snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic. The weekend McWilliams planned to visit North Carolina, he canceled his flight to make the shorter trip to Coral Gables.
“UM is a home team. To represent for my city would be big,” McWilliams said. “And at USF, the coaching staff is really cool. We have a good relationship.”
Before having to cancel the visit with the Tar Heels, he had them in the top three with UF and USF, and then the Hurricanes made the late push.
UF is getting an all-around student-athlete.
“Work ethic is through the roof, great kid — ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ The kind of kid you want on your team. He’s a great teammate,” Southwest coach Tim Neal said. “He’s cocky in the right ways as far as his abilities — athletic, fast and a whole lot of football knowledge for an 18-year-old.”
McWilliams is the first Southwest player to accept a football scholarship to either UM, UF or FSU since Ron Harris signed with the Hurricanes in 1981.
He will be the first Southwest alumnus to play football for UF since Charlie Skalaski of the Class of 1974.
“It’s huge for someone to see talent out of Southwest,” McWilliams said. “No one ever made it [to a ‘big three’ Florida school] like me, but there have been players as talented as me. I feel honored and blessed that someone sees my talent and that I’m able to make history at Southwest.”
Former Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, currently with the Los Angeles Rams, spent his first three high school years at Southwest but transferred to St. Thomas Aquinas for his senior season.
Last season, Southwest had running back Trevon Sands come close by signing with USF.
“I’ve been fighting for it for a long time,” Neal said. “Trevon Sands was a kid that had 22 offers but none from the ‘big three.’ This is great.”
Defensive lineman Ilan Jorge is headed to MidAmerica Nazarene University. Two talented defenders went the junior college route on Wednesday in Willie Brown (Shasta Junior College) and Shemar Smith (Antelope Valley College).
Neal thinks the two can excel once they get through junior college.
“They’re in a situation with test scores and GPA, but what those junior colleges are getting is like a [Division I-type] kid,” Neal said. “Both kids are going to be great where they go. I see both going to at least [FCS or FBS] after junior college.
Christopher McWilliams (Florida)
Ilan Jorge (MidAmerica Nazarene)
Willie Brown (Shasta Junior College)
Shemar Smith (Antelope Valley College)