LANCASTER, Calif. -- When Willie Taggart departed as the coach at Oregon for Florida State after just one season with the Ducks, it was easy for Devon Williams, one of the top-ranked high school players in the country, to understand.
He was intrigued by the idea of playing for Taggart in Eugene, Oregon, but didn’t fault the coach's decision to leave.
“It had an impact on me, but at the same time it didn’t,” Williams said. “Because he’s a businessman and he had to do what’s best for him and his family.”
Though he hadn't committed to Oregon, the change did make Williams rethink his own recruiting process.
Oregon was the first school to offer Williams a scholarship and initially stood as his favorite, but with Taggart out and the coaching situation up in the air, he was hesitant to even schedule a visit. For someone whose living situation changed frequently growing up, the lack of stability was unappealing.
Williams moved so often he spent his freshman year in an independent study program and by the time he reached his junior year, his entire high school football resume consisted of just one junior varsity game. Still, Williams was so dominant in seven-on-seven leagues he managed to find his way onto the radar of several big-time college football programs.
That wasn’t a surprise for Antelope Valley High football coach Jermaine Lewis, a former UCLA running back, who heard stories of Williams’ potential before he stepped on campus as a sophomore.
“A buddy of mine prior to that coached him in basketball,” Lewis said. “He contacted me and told me, ‘You’ve got a kid coming in and I’m going to need you to look after him. I’m going to need him to stay on track because he’s going to be something special.’”
There were stretches Williams lived with his mom, who now lives in Las Vegas, and his aunt, but early in his junior year, he was in need of something more permanent.
“I asked anyone if they had a place to stay until high school was over,” Williams said.
Lewis said there were multiple coaches on his staff willing to open their homes, but Williams started staying with the team’s receivers coach, Joe Masei, and it worked out well. Masei is now Williams’ legal guardian.
“Devon went out and tried it out. He’s matured a lot over there,” Lewis said. “He’s seen how a household is supposed to be run. He’s seen a male influence of how a man of the house is supposed to be.”
And he also blossomed into one of the most coveted football players in the country.
Once Mario Cristobal was hired to replace Taggart, it eased Williams’ mind about what to think of Oregon. He remained close with the assistant coaches during the transition and could very well put a Ducks hat on for the ESPN cameras on signing day.
The other hat on the table, barring a last-minute change of heart, will be USC. Williams said Monday he’s “pretty much 50-50” between the schools and hopes to have his choice in mind a few days before he makes it official.
At 6-foot-5 and around 200 pounds, ESPN lists Williams’ position as athlete, but it’s a safe bet that he’ll start his career at receiver, where he’ll be a matchup nightmare because of his rare blend of size and athleticism. Williams said he also could play safety and that he’ll do whatever he’s asked to get on the field right away.
“He’s a humble kid from humble beginnings and will be hungry,” Lewis said. “What he’s done to get himself on the field, and the work and effort he’s put in to give himself this opportunity can’t go unnoticed.”