- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Derrick Williams, Eleanor Roosevelt’s standout and top-rated high school prospect, stunned the college football recruiting world yesterday by picking struggling Penn State over a quartet of bowl-bound powerhouse programs.

Announcing his decision live on ESPNEWS before a packed auditorium at the Greenbelt school yesterday, the 6-foot, 195-pounder provoked gasps from schoolmates and collected media when he donned a Penn State cap.

Oklahoma and Florida had been thought to be at the top of Williams’ list. But the Nittany Lions, who have posted losing records in four of the last five years under embattled legend Joe Paterno, offered Williams what none of his other finalists could — the spotlight.

“Penn State doesn’t really have anybody like me,” said Williams, who racked up 3,360 yards of total offense and 31 touchdowns as a senior while playing quarterback, running back and receiver. “I think I’m a difference-maker.

“My second school might have been Oklahoma. But they already have a primary focus in [true freshman tailback] Adrian Peterson. In fact, all my runner-up schools have that kind of go-to player. Hopefully, I can be that guy in State College for Joe Paterno.”

Luring Williams away from the Sooners and Gators, as well as fellow finalists Tennessee and Texas, clearly was the most impressive victory of the year for Paterno, who has seen his teams go 7-16 over the last two seasons as calls for his ouster intensified.

Somehow Paterno not only survived the season but received a contract extension through 2008. And his success with blue-chip recruits over the last two years perhaps proves that the 78-year-old Paterno still possesses some of the magic that has made him college football’s second winningest coach (343-116-3).

Last season Paterno landed coveted quarterback Anthony Morelli and consensus top-five defensive force Dan Connor. And with nearly two months left until signing day, Paterno already has gained two of this season’s top 10 prospects in Williams and premier defensive back Justin King.

“I was looking for honesty and integrity, and Coach Paterno is one of the classiest and greatest men the game of football has ever seen,” said Williams, who attended camp at Penn State as an eighth-grader, falling in love with the campus and earning a standing scholarship offer with skills that were dazzling even then.

An early graduate from Eleanor Roosevelt, Williams plans to enroll immediately for spring semester classes at Penn State, which makes him eligible to participate in spring camp.

But his early graduation status makes his choice of Penn State even more surprising, because he could have attended bowl preparations had he picked any of his other finalists. Had he chosen No.2 Oklahoma, for instance, Williams would be preparing to jet to Miami, where the Sooners will convene the day after Christmas to begin preparations for the Jan.4 national title game (Orange Bowl) against top-ranked Southern California.

“I know a lot of people are going to second-guess this decision because Penn State’s been a little down recently,” Williams said. “But I have faith that Coach Paterno can carry them back to the top, and I’m going to give them everything I’ve got toward that goal. I’m asking every other recruit left on the board out there to come join me at Penn State so we can take this sleeping bear to the national championship.”

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