IU quarterback Dexter Williams leaves doubts behind on his way to Big Ten
Indiana quarterback signee Dexter Williams leaves doubters behind him after paving his way from single-A Mount de Sales Academy as a 6-foot-1 quarterback preparing to play Big Ten football at Indiana.
Entering the Indiana football program as a quarterback in 2020 is a position of both high risk and high potential, and Georgia three-star quarterback Dexter Williams is that quarterback.
Indiana leapt from an offense in the middle of the pack within the Big Ten in 2017 and 2018 to the No. 3 offense in the conference in 2019, as Peyton Ramsey and Mike Penix made unexpected strides on the field under new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer. DeBoer laid out the template for an offense that head coach Tom Allen wants to maintain in Bloomington, but, while first-year offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan shows promise, there is no guarantee that the Indiana offense will be as effective without the original mind behind it.
But Williams, who has already faced his share of doubts from forces outside of his circle during his development as a quarterback and recruitment as a prospect, isn’t too concerned about the future.
“I believe in Coach Allen and that he chooses guys that fit his scheme or the system that he likes. It’s not going to be a big deal,” Williams told TheHoosier.com. “There will be people on the staff who are still there, and I’ll get to know the coach, the system and the players as if it were Coach DeBoer.”
It was DeBoer who first called Williams on behalf of the Indiana staff to express interest and begin a relationship two weeks before the Hoosiers offered him.
“He called me and it was just fireworks from then on,” Williams said.
The Broyles Award semifinalist also worked out with Williams during the summer and let it be known to Williams that he could play at the Big Ten level. DeBoer was also the first to call Williams to let him know he had accepted the Fresno State head coaching job and that the system he implemented at Indiana would likely be retained.
But threaded throughout all of these interactions was Allen as well. Williams said Allen was actually the three-star quarterback’s biggest advocate of the coaches who recruited him. While Allen’s specialty is on the defensive side of the ball, much of the reassurance Williams felt about his size, ability and potential at the Big Ten level came from Allen.
And when Allen spoke about Williams after his signing Dec. 18, he mentioned his arm and his understanding that there is a stable of quarterbacks ahead of him, but he expanded on his personality and mentality at the position.
“When you meet him, get to know him, he just has that special charisma about him that you want from a guy that is the face of your team in the future at that position,” Allen said.
And when more is known about Williams, it’s not surprising that he and Allen made the connection that they did.
Facing the doubts
When Dec. 28, 2017, is mentioned, Williams and Mount de Sales coach Keith Hatcher have similar reactions. That is the day that marked a change in the way Williams approached the game of football.
The Macon, Georgia, quarterback had just completed his sophomore season – his first as the starting quarterback – and he was invited to participate in the 2017 Georgia Elite Classic sophomores game at McEachern High School.
Macon’s relationship with football is fairly rich. Long-time Minnesota Vikings cornerback Bobby Bryant is from Macon, as well as long-time Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back J.T. Thomas, 10-year NFL offensive tackle George Foster, eight-year NFL linebacker Tony Gilbert and 1930s Georgia standout Vernon Smith. NFL Hall of Famer Jim Parker and current Denver Broncos defensive back Kareem Jackson were both born in Macon.
But none of those Macon-natives played at Mount de Sales, and the last great quarterback to hale from Macon was Georgia and Georgia Southern quarterback Joe Dupree in the late-1980s. The only other Mount de Sales player to sign to a Division I school in 2020 is running back Josiah Cotton, who signed with Samford.
So, coming out of a school with 375 students and playing in the lowest classification in Georgia, the confidence in a path toward Power Five football came later in Williams’ journey than it did for other players on the fertile soil of Georgia high school football. His performance, squared against the likes of national No. 11 prospect Arik Gilbert, in the Elite Classic was the spark he needed.
“I was playing the all-star game in Georgia with the best players in the state, who were going to play SEC football and ACC football, and I was holding my own in the game before I had any offers,” Williams said. “I always had a love for it, but it grew when I knew that I could play with the best of them.”
Paired with Louisville quarterback signee Tee Webb, Williams threw for more than 150 yards and a touchdown to win the game, and, upon his return to Macon, Hatcher said it was “a turning point” for him. He noticed a stronger commitment to football from Williams, and the strides made in that offseason lifted the quarterback from receiving a Samford offer after the Elite Classic to holding more than 20 offers by the end of the spring.
The following fall, Williams threw for 1,023 yards, ran for 1,544 yards and totaled 31 touchdowns, putting together what Hatcher considered the best film display in support of his arm talent before that season.
“I knew I could play on the level of ‘the big boys’ coming out of smalltown Macon, Georgia,” he said.
Still more doubts
The ceaseless critique surrounding the quarterback position on all levels of football is height, and, with one look at Williams’ 6-foot-1, 198-pound, frame it’s understood that height is part of the conversation during his evaluation.
That’s why Williams said some of his most significant inspirations are Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees – all effective-to-great NFL quarterbacks who are shorter than Williams.
But at one point, Williams made a joke to Tom Allen about needing to stretch so he could “gain an inch or two.”
“He said, ‘You don’t have to worry about that. Worry about the things you can control. You don’t need that height,’” Williams said. “Hearing that from him – I’ve never really had doubt, but that made me realize height really did not matter.”
Hatcher said he was relieved to have heard a comment like that from Indiana’s head coach because, being a coach for 11 years in college football and a recruiting coordinator for Murray State and Georgia Southern, he understands how some Power Five programs “profile recruit” and that Williams had been making an effort to improve those aspects of his game that were within his control.
He packed on 50 pounds in two years. He led his program from two wins his freshman season in 2016, to six wins in 2017, to nine wins in 2018, to 10 wins in his senior year with offensive linemen that were about his height, including one that weighed as much as he did, and wide receivers – though he wouldn’t trade them for anyone, he said – who needed “pitch-perfect” throws to be most effective. And his arm continued to grow stronger and stronger.
“Being around Dexter the last five years and seeing his development and what he can do with the ball in his hands, I would take him over any 6-foot-4 kid in the area,” Hatcher said. “Indiana didn’t blink an eye.”
As a senior, Williams completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns, ran for 984 yards and 14 touchdowns and was named All-Region Offensive Player of the Year among all classifications, but his best football is ahead of him, Hatcher said.
“We always talked about what it meant to be a quarterback, all the things that come with being a quarterback that have nothing to do with athletic ability,” Hatcher said. “He has all of those. He has everything you want in a guy that is going to lead your football team.”
Williams said he believes that when the quarterback understands his offense’s playbook thoroughly and has a good connection with everyone on the team, big plays, yards and points will come as a result. He just needs to make those connections in Bloomington.
He made those connections at Mount de Sales, Hatcher said. He’s friends with freshmen who aren’t student-athletes all the way up to the team captains on the football team and everyone in between.
“Go on campus, meet everybody at this school, they just rave about him,” Allen said on Dec. 18. “We joked about him being the mayor of the whole area because everybody just loves him.”
People gravitate to Williams’ personality, Hatcher said. He has a way of getting everyone involved and making them feel included, and it transfers to the field.
Another reason why Williams was not highly touted by top programs or recruiting sites, Hatcher said, is because of his unselfishness. He understood what was required to win games, and that was his goal more than anything on a game-to-game basis.
Hatcher said the moment that stands out to him was when Williams, with Mount de Sales’ first regional championship in 23 years waiting at the end of the game, suggested milking the clock instead of stacking points.
“He could have thrown for 3,000 yards. He could have run for 2,000 yards,” Hatcher said. “But one of his strongest characteristics is that he’s unselfish. He did some things here that were more team-oriented.”
During Williams’ senior season, Mount de Sales defeated eight of its 11 opponents by three or more scores, and at the single-A level, a quarterback of Williams’ prestige is expected to stack outrageous statistical seasons. But he only finished six of the 11 games played.
He said he wants to bring that same team-first mentality to Indiana, and Indiana wide receiver signee David Baker, in a conversation with TheHoosier.com, has already compared Williams to Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, in terms of his approach to the game.
On his visit to Bloomington for the Hoosiers’ game against Ohio State in September, Williams told TheHoosier.com that what jumped out to him was that on his way to the restroom, he was already recognized by fans as the committed quarterback. He also spent time with Baker and four-star wide receiver signee Rashawn Williams on that visit and has plans to meet with Baker in the Central Indiana area before Baker hits campus in June.
This magnetism is why Hatcher said Williams will be remembered as “one of the better leaders” to ever play at Mount de Sales.
“My vision would be an even bigger family,” Williams said about his vision for his time at Indiana. “That’s what made our high school program become an undefeated team. The wins will come. I want a winning environment – a winner’s mentality everywhere. Leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Hoosiers will step out onto the field on Saturday and get a win.”