Established relationships can often pay big dividends in the world of college football recruiting. Such was the case for East Carolina in landing a verbal commitment on June 24 from Florida defensive lineman Javon Williams.
Max Smith is Williams’ head coach at Pinellas Park High School in Largo, a city on Florida’s Gulf Coast situated South of Clearwater and across Old Tampa Bay from Tampa. Smith, who previously served as head coach at Dunedin and Boca Ciega high schools in Florida, had dealt with ECU’s new director of player development, Bryan Butterworth, when the latter was an assistant at Campbell University.
“He used to come by our school all the time when he was at Campbell,” Smith said. “He was recruiting one of my players pretty hard a few years back at my old school. The guys (college coaches) I know pretty well, even if they move around, I try to stay in touch with them.
“So going into spring ball I knew he (Butterworth) was there (at ECU), so I reached out to him about Javon. He was like, ‘Dude, we love his film. We’re going to recruit this kid.’ ”
That initial contact led to immediate visits to Largo by ECU offensive line coach Allen Mogridge and defensive tackles coach Roy Tesh. A scholarship offer was extended to the 6-foot-2, 291-pounder in mid-May and he accepted June 24, two days after taking an official visit to Greenville.
Williams chose East Carolina after also receiving scholarship offers from Arkansas State, Bethune-Cookman, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Georgia State, Lafayette, Louisville, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Temple, Tennessee Tech, Toledo, Central Florida, South Florida and West Virginia.
When Smith arrived at Pinellas Park to serve as offensive coordinator in the winter of 2021, Williams had already spent a successful season on the junior varsity squad. Smith immediately developed a relationship with Williams through the weight room.
“One of my favorite things about being a high school coach is being the strength coach,” Smith said. “Javon was a big kid, probably 6-1, 260 pounds when I got here. He really liked the weight room and he really enjoyed my energy in there. He’s one of the most talented kids I’ve ever seen in the weight room as far as numbers in all the lifts.”
Williams holds the top marks among Pinellas Park players in all the major lifts, according to Smith. His max squat has been 535 pounds, his top power clean 285, bench press 350 and front squat 405.
That kind of strength made Williams a sure bet to start for the Pinellas Park varsity as a sophomore 2021. He didn’t disappoint, recording 62 tackles, six sacks and six quarterback hurries in 10 games from an interior defensive line position.
All-Pinellas County honors would come Williams’ way in 2022 when he produced 60 tackles, an amazing 29 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 11 games.
One of Williams’ most impressive outings of the 2022 campaign came in a 9-6 loss against Clearwater. He made eight tackles, with four tackles for loss and three sacks. Smith recalled a particular play in the Clearwater game that eventually made it onto Williams’ highlight reel.
“He’s playing over the center and drives him way back — and the center is not small,” Smith said. “He’s (Williams) strong, so I’ve seen him drive people back over and over again. But the quarterback breaks free. We had gotten pressure on him from other spots. He scrambles and keeps going backwards, and Javon just runs him down. He grabbed him by one arm and just kind of slung him. That was just his raw strength, grabbing the kid by the jersey and throwing him like he’s a little kid with one arm. That just showed how powerful Javon is.”
Those are also the kind of plays that intrigued the ECU staff after watching Williams’ highlight video. Mogridge and Tesh both left good impressions during their initial contacts with Smith and Williams.
“Their offensive line coach (Mogridge) showed up first,” Smith said. “I got to know him pretty well during COVID quarantine (when Mogridge was at USF) because he would do these online clinics out of his garage that I really enjoyed. And I knew he was a Tampa (USF) guy for a little bit. So, he came down first.
“Then the defensive tackles coach (Tesh) came about a week later to watch him (Williams) (in spring) practice. He was there for almost the entire practice, which is not normal. A lot of those guys stay for 15 or 20 minutes and head out.
“I got a genuine feeling from their defensive tackles coach. I think that set well with Javon and it made him comfortable.”
Once on campus for his official visit, Williams was sold on the Pirates.
“He and his mom went,” Smith said. “They were both texting me … they had a blast.
East Carolina has recruited Williams as an interior defensive lineman.
“He’s our best player, so this season we’ll try to put him in situations to be successful,” Smith said. “So, he may play a little on the edge for us this year based on the scheme or opponent. But he’ll be on the inside at East Carolina.”
Smith does not anticipate that Williams will graduate in December and enroll early at ECU. He is expected instead to remain at Pinellas Park through next spring where he should be one of the region’s top competitors in the shot put (career best 38-10.25).
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