July 2, 2008
By J.B. Wogan
High School freshman Kasen Williams gets national attention
Go to YouTube.com and type in Kasen Williams.
In one clip from the state championship game against O’Dea, Skyline’s quarterback, Jake Heaps, heaves a Hail Mary pass to the opponent’s 30-yard line.
Williams stretches out, falling backward, and cups the ball onto his right side for about a 60-yard gain.
Six months later, Williams says he has verbal scholarship offers from three Division I college football programs.
He is 15.
“Kasen’s a real raw athlete. He’s a kid that you just watch him for a couple minutes and you see he’s a special talent,” said teammate Gino Simone.
He, Williams and Heaps, all of whom are being recruited by big-name colleges, will chat about scholarship offers off the field, but during practices and games, Williams is all business.
“He never comes in acting like a big shot or anything,” said Heaps. “He’s just a pleasure to have around all the time. A hard working kid.”
“It’s all coming at me so quick. Just last year, I was doing the spring camp with the freshmen, thinking that I was going to be playing with the freshmen, and all of sudden, a year later, I’ve gotten three offers and I’m getting all of this publicity,” said Williams, sitting in his family’s Trossachs home.
Both parents, Aaron and Rhonda, were present for his interview with the Sammamish Review.
Kasen said it’s a family policy to keep his parents around during interviews.
Even as a high school freshman, he gets regular calls from the national media. The attention has taught them to filter inquiries and answer questions with caution, Rhonda said.
“You kind of make sure that he’s actually saying the truth. At the same time you want to make sure that they’re asking appropriate questions,” she explained.
“They don’t want me to say anything that would make it seem like I’m a bad person,” added Kasen. “It gets annoying sometimes, but it’s okay.”
Kasen said he has had two conversations with Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham in his office – both at least 45 minutes and accompanied by a parent – about the possibility of playing for the Huskies.
Kasen will joke that his parents, both UW alumni, want him to choose the University of Washington, but Rhonda denies such claims.
“We’re obviously a little biased because we’re alumni, but at the same time, we want to do what’s best for him,” said Rhonda. “I think we have a lot of responsibility, just in terms of helping him and making sure he makes good decisions all along, academically as well as athletically.”
Kasen also has spoken on the telephone with coaches from UCLA and Boise State, and both parents agree that he will keep his options open.
In the meantime, Kasen said his mother keeps him on task about schoolwork. A scholarship offer is not a guarantee, he said.
“I thought this one was ready”
“I offered my first freshman a couple weeks ago,” Willingham announced during a college football forum in Dallas May 16. Willingham joined other college coaches as they addressed the state of the game.
One topic centered on the accelerated recruiting process, where scouts identify younger and younger college prospects.
Willingham’s comments are available in a transcript from the National Football Foundation.
“To me it’s just crazy, it’s crazy when you start offering freshmen scholarships,” said Gene Dales, Eastlake High School’s head football coach. His team will face Skyline next year.
“Everybody’s just trying younger and lower to find kids that they know are going to be great athletes,” Dales said, adding that coaches like him feel a responsibility to protect high school athletes.
“You don’t want your high school kids to be exploited,” he said. Dales said his experience with the scouting process makes him wary of putting pressure on a high school freshman.
“We’ve got kids who get offers as seniors who change their minds two or three times,” Dales said.
But Dales also acknowledged that young stars, their families and their coaches cannot shy away from the extra attention.
“It’s here and we’re going to have to learn how to deal with it,” he said.
During the forum, Willingham did not name the beneficiary of his verbal offer because the NCAA prohibits it.
“I thought this one was ready. I thought, physically, he could probably do it right now,” Willingham said.
The 6-foot-2 Williams played nine games last year, posting 19 receptions, 394 yards and two touchdowns.
But he only became a starter in his third-to-last game of the season. Two games later, Williams had five receptions and 107 yards against O’Dea in the state championship.
“He showed the entire state that this kid is going to be something special in the future,” said Skyline coach Matt Taylor. “Two of the catches (he made) were as much pressure situations that you can be in.”
In spite of all the attention, Williams cannot officially commit to a college program for another two and a half years. The verbal offers are nonbinding, according to Jennifer Kearns, an associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA.
“The only binding agreement, where the NCAA is concerned, is when a prospective student-athlete signs an NLI (National Letter of Intent),” wrote Kearns in an e-mail.
In the spring 2011, Williams may collect on the verbal offers made to him, if they were still there, which is not guaranteed.
“If he were to get hurt, the offer may not even be there anymore,” Taylor said.
Reporter J.B. Wogan can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 247, or firstname.lastname@example.org.