When Josh Helmholdt first saw Jameson Williams in person he thought he had the wrong kid.
Helmholdt, Rivals’ Midwest regional analyst, had heard plenty about the speedster from St. Louis who had already picked up multiple college offers prior to his junior year of high school, but surely the rail-thin receiver standing in front of him wasn’t that guy.
“He was literally like 5-11, 125 pounds,” Helmholdt recalled. “I thought this can’t be the same kid that is getting these looks and these offers. I was like, is he lying about his college offers? It took me a while to kind of buy-in on Jameson, but he finished as a Rivals100 prospect.”
Williams has grown a bit since then. After shooting up to 6-foot-2, 189 pounds, the speedy receiver proved doubters wrong, recording a combined 2,688 yards and 41 touchdowns through the air during his final two seasons of high school. That production ultimately saw him sign with Ohio State as the No. 87 overall player in the 2019 class.
Two years later, Williams is looking to prove himself again.
After entering his name in the NCAA transfer portal last week, the rising junior announced Monday that he will be transferring to Alabama where he will look to add to a receiving unit that has lost four first-rounders the past two offseasons.
Williams started six of Ohio State’s games last season, recording 154 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. However, he often served as a supplementary piece in the Buckeyes’ attack, using his blazing speed to draw defenses away from fellow receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
Williams’ role could be elevated at Alabama as the Crimson Tide is looking to replace Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle during Bill O’Brien’s first year as offensive coordinator.
“I think he certainly steps into that type of [stater] role,” said Kevin Noon, the publisher of BukeyeGrove.com. “I don’t think he makes that kind of decision [to transfer] if he didn’t believe that he’d have that opportunity. I think that he certainly has the skill set there. He might be asked to do some different things with how Alabama runs its offense. We’ve also seen that Alabama, under whatever offensive coordinator it has had, has done a great job of finding space for its receivers, and Jameson doesn’t need a lot of space.”
While Alabama doesn’t boast the same receiving depth as Ohio State, the Tide returns its second-leading receiver in John Metchie III as well as several wideouts capable of filling in for the departures of Smith and Waddle. Slade Bolden replaced an injured Waddle at slot receiver last season while Javon Baker, Traeshon Holden and Xavier Williams have all shown promise this offseason. The Tide also signed a quartet of Rivals100 receivers in Ja’Corey Brooks, JoJo Earle, Christian Leary and Agiye Hall.
While Nick Saban spoke highly of his receiving corps during spring camp, the head coach did express a need for more speed in the unit.
“These guys all gotta prove themselves,” Saban said at the time. “I think speed kills on the football field and on the highway. I love to have speed guys. We have some big guys, but we’ve gotta get some speed guys, too.”
That’s where Jameson comes in.
The former high school track star set a Missouri state record in the 300-meter hurdles, besting a mark previously held by former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. He also finished runner-up to Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo in the fastest-man competition during the 2018 Rivals Five-Star Challenge.
That speed has translated over to the football field where Jameson averaged 17.11 yards per reception last season after averaging 18.67 the year before. Both those averages led Ohio State among receivers with multiple receptions.
“A lot of people think speedsters are just track guys. He’s a speedster who’s a football guy,” said Brandon Gregory, Jameson’s former head coach at Cardinal Ritter College Prep. “He can take the top off the roof. He can catch a screen and take it 80 [yards], he can take a jet sweep and go 40 [yards] or he can run a post and blow by people. They are getting an athlete that can do it all.”
Gregory played with Alabama receivers coach Holmon Wiggins at New Mexico in the early 2000s. The two still talk regularly to this day. Naturally, when the Alabama assistant learned that Jameson entered his name in the transfer portal last week, he gave his former college teammate a call.
While Wiggins didn’t discuss Alabama’s plans for Jameson in much detail, Gregory said he believes his former receiver could feature both in the slot or on the perimeter. According to Pro Football Focus, Jameson lined up on the perimeter for 265 snaps last season as opposed to 43 at slot receiver.
Regardless of how the incoming transfer is used, he will now need to learn the Tide’s offense quickly without the advantage of a spring camp.
“He’s a hard worker, and he’s going to do everything it takes to get ready,” Gregory said. “I know Coach Wiggins does a great job. They’ll probably need to get him on some Zooms to get him caught up with the offense. Jameson will be willing to come early and stay late. Between his want-to and Coach Wiggins going-to, I think they’re going to get him on the right page.
“Coach Wiggins coaches hard, and I coach hard, too. One of the things Jameson told me the other day, he said ‘I actually think your coaching is going to be able to help me handle Coach Wiggins’ coaching.’ I think Coach Wiggins is going to be on his ass, but Jameson’s not going to run from it.”
Now fully bought into Jameson’s ability, Hemholdt likens him to DeVonta Smith, stating both receivers play well above their slight stature. While the analyst isn’t necessarily expecting Alabama’s latest acquisition to tear up the record books in the same fashion as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, he does believe he’ll fit well into the Tide’s attack.
“He’s a guy who’s going to be able to go on the outside and stretch the field vertically,” Helmholdt said. “Is he as dynamic as DeVonta Smith once he gets the ball in his hands? I don’t think so. But he can still be dynamic after the catch. I don’t think he’s a guy who’s going to win the Heisman, but he’s definitely going to be a guy who can stretch that field vertically and make the offense more dynamic.”
In other words, Alabama has the right kid.
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