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Recruiting Rewind: Religious beliefs of Auburn, UGA and Clemson coaches made a difference

UGA’s Mark Richt and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney are two college football coaches who are widely known for their religious beliefs.

But one of Georgia’s top prospects said it was another coach who made a bigger spiritual impression on him during the recruiting process.

“Gus Malzahn,” said Andrew Williams, a 4-star defensive end who ended up signing with Auburn over his two other finalists, UGA and Clemson.

Williams attends Eagles Landing Christian Academy, and his Christian beliefs – along with those of his future coach — played a factor into his decision.

Andrew Williams committed to Auburn over UGA and Clemson on signing day (247sports)

Andrew Williams committed to Auburn over UGA and Clemson on signing day (247sports)

“It was a big part,” Williams said. “That’s what all three of (my finalist) had in common – great Christian leaders as head coaches. All three of them.

“I feel like as I went through the recruiting process that if the head guy was a great Christian leader, then everybody below him followed him. Even if they weren’t, they would have to pick up on some of the things he was teaching. That’s mainly what stood out with those three schools to me.”

All three coaches discussed spiritual matters, but it was Malzahn who had the biggest impact on Williams.

“On Coach Malzhan’s visit to my house, he would just come in and share his faith,” Williams said. “He invited my head coach over, and told me to invite whomever else I wanted to come over. He would just share his faith and sign autographs. That was real cool. Throughout the whole process, he was just like that. He was the same guy consistently.”

Did any of Williams’ friends come over for autographs? “Yes, all of them. Even people I didn’t know. They just got word that Malzahn was coming over to my house or to the school. He never said ‘no’ to anybody. That was really cool.”

Here’s the rest of the Q&A with Andrew Williams:

Which school finished second to Auburn? “It was a close tie between Clemson and Georgia. It was about even.”

What could Georgia or Clemson have done better? “Well, with Georgia, obviously time killed their chances a little bit. With Clemson, I don’t know. It just wasn’t for me. Clemson is a great program, but it wasn’t for me.”

What do you mean with “time killed” UGA’s chances? “It really couldn’t match up with the relationship I had with Auburn. It was a short two weeks (of courtship) with Georgia.”

How close did it come with UGA with only being heavily recruited for two weeks? “It was close. During my official to UGA, everything was just there. It was time really. Me and (Cedar Grove High linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams) talked about it. He was on visit there, too. Lorenzo Carter wanted us all to go to UGA with him. That was his plan. But there wasn’t enough time to develop a relationship with the UGA coaches. They were all great programs, but South Carolina and Auburn were the places for us.” (Note: Allen-Williams signed with South Carolina)

When did you know you were going to sign with Auburn? “After my Clemson visit, I knew it was Auburn. But I wanted to see UGA and if they could really shake me or move me. At the end of the day, I didn’t really have the relationship with (Jeremy Pruitt and Tracy Rocker) that I had with (Gus Malzahn and Rodney Garner).”

Which college coach was the hardest to turn down? “Not really me, but my mom. Clemson really got her because how Coach Dabo establishes relationships. I mean, they still talk. Clemson loved my mom. If you get her, you’ve got her. My mom had trouble breaking up with all the coaches.”

Swinney is known in recruiting circles for getting emotional about a prospect’s decision. Did that happen? “Me personally, I don’t want to let anyone down. I had been recruited by (Swinney) since the ninth grade, so it was a four-year relationship. It was hard. I think my mom took it worse. But at the end of the day, I think I made a great decision for myself with Auburn.”

What was the coolest thing that happened on any official visit? “During my trip to UGA, we were walking around downtown Athens, and people were cheering our name. It was me, Bryson and Lorenzo. We were just walking down there to get something to eat, and I think half of the block was lined up there and clapping. They were chanting our names. That was wild.”

What was the coolest thing that happened on your Clemson visit? “At Clemson, (Dabo Swinney) took me to his son’s basketball game. That really stood out to me. It was me, (Swinney), his wife and his son. We went to this old gym, and (Swinney) walks in like he’s a celebrity. We just watched his son’s basketball game. It was real cool for him to take time out of the whole recruiting thing to go watch his son play basketball. So family does matter over at Clemson. Coach Swinney is a great spiritual leader, and (on the ride over) we were talking about his faith and his Christian. It was a real cool experience.”

You also played some basketball against Richt during your visit? “Yes, but he was impossible to beat in corn hole. He has years of experience in that game. Nobody can beat him. Lorenzo Carter’s dad and (Richt) beat everybody that weekend. Nobody was close to them. Coach Richt is like a pro. They were beating everybody so nonchalantly. Coach Richt joked with Lorenzo that if he beat him in corn hole, he’d have to commit to UGA. He beat him, so I guess Lorenzo went through with the bet and signed with UGA.”

Biggest recruiting rumor that wasn’t true? “Everybody thought I was going to Clemson in the tenth grade because they were one of my early offers. That went on through my junior year, but didn’t really affect how other colleges recruited me.”

What the funniest thing a college coach said to you? “Coach Butch (Tennessee’s Butch Jones). He’s a character. I like him. I’m a big LeBron fan, and he’s like good friends with the Heat. He’s like ‘When commit to Tennessee, I will take you to a game in front-row seats.’ He was always joking with me like that. Coach Jones is a great guy.”

What was your biggest regret? “Not taking all five of my visits. They are lots of fun.” Where else would you have gone? “Ole Miss and … I don’t know. Hawaii would’ve been pretty cool.”

Any other funny stories from recruiting trips? “All of them were cool. (UGA running back) Keith Marshall thinks he’s really good at bowling. I tell him to this day that he’s not very good. But he’s pretty good. But the big-time players at each school, they are really humble – Sammy Watkins, Tre Mason, and Greg Robinson. The big-time players are normal guys.”

Andrew Williams (left) posted this Instagram picture with his brother, who recently graduated from Georgia Tech

Andrew Williams (right) posted this Instagram picture with his brother, who recently graduated from Georgia Tech

Your older brother, defensive end Anthony Williams, played at Georgia Tech. How much pressure did you feel to go to Georgia Tech? “There was a lot of pressure to stay in-state, whether it be Georgia or Georgia Tech. But my brother told me to do whatever is best for me. I had to do what was best for me. I’m a people pleaser but it’s my future.”

Did your brother’s experiences at Georgia Tech affect your consideration of the Yellow Jackets? “Not just that. If you see the team, there are just some things not there on the defensive line. I just think some other schools produce and play better than others. But it was nothing against Georgia Tech or anything. I just knew it wasn’t for me. It just didn’t have everything for me.”

Do you think Georgia Tech’s coaches were disappointed at your brother since you never really considered them? “I can’t say that. You’d have to ask the coaches. I have no words for it really.”

Your brother has graduated from Georgia Tech but will play somewhere else for his final season of eligibility. Will he join you at Auburn? “He is headed to Troy. He couldn’t go to Auburn because he would have to sit out a year. He will play his fifth year at Troy in the state of Alabama with me.”

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– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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