By itself, the state of Arkansas is too small to handle the recruiting needs of the Arkansas football program.
So, like most Razorback coaches before him, Sam Pittman has made recruiting Oklahoma and Texas a high priority in order to land the playmakers at key positions.
One of their top priorities in the coming months is Tulsa native Gentry Williams, a four-star defensive back whom 247 Sports ranks as the top player in Oklahoma and No. 19 in the nation in the class of 2022.
Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom know that bring more talented playmakers into the secondary is imperative to building the kind of elite SEC defense that will be necessary contend with the powerhouse programs.
In future seasons, the Hogs can’t afford to give up the kind of passing yards that they did against Alabama, Florida, LSU, and Missouri to wrap the 2020 season. In that stretch, the Razorbacks gave up an average 336 yards per game.
Still, the secondary must improve for the Hogs. So, Arkansas cornerbacks coach Sam Carter has been in charge of Williams recruitment and has made strides in securing a visit and impressing Williams.
‘’I just feel like with Coach Carter he’s helped me get through a lot of times when I really needed somebody other than family,’’ Williams told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport.
“He’s been in my shoes, so he understands a lot of what I’ve been going through, and he just helps me persevere through.”
Williams hails from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School, the same school which produced former Arkansas football star Felix Jones. It’s also the alma mater of Keuan Parker, a freshman cornerback for the Hogs.
Williams has offers from a number of high major schools like Baylor, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State and Penn State, but projects to play defensive back for almost all of them. Indeed, he told The Athletic that at this point only Florida is recruiting him to play wide receiver.
What makes Gentry Williams Elite
Williams has speed to burn. As a freshman, he recorded 47.7 seconds to win the Class 6A 400-meter championship and came in No. 2 in the 200 meters with a time of 21.14 seconds. Even though he tore his ACL early in his junior year, it appears he’s made a full recovery:
Gentry Williams also displays fluid hips, which makes him able to turn and run with essentially any opposing wide receiver. That fluidity and speed is a big reason that Sam Pittman and his Arkansas football staff are trying to pry Williams away from the frontrunners in this recruitment: the Oklahoma Sooners and the USC Trojans.
Let’s break down his recruitment with both programs:
Gentry Williams with Oklahoma Sooners
Fluid hips or not, there’s no getting around it: the Sooners have a built-in advantage as Williams’ biggest home state program.
“He acknowledges growing up a Sooners fan, but said he’s trying to put that to the side as he decides where he’ll play at the next level,” The Athletic’s Jason Kersey reported.
(Plenty of childhood fans of the Sooners have left to the play for the Hogs, including the great Razorback quarterback Quinn Grovey.)
The Sooners may look at using Gentry Williams and his 4.3 speed on the offensive side of the ball as well. Williams recently told SI Sooners, “I’m playing a little more receiver now. They kind of moved me to that position. I like it; I feel like I’ll be more explosive there in more space. I like that part.”
Currently, the Sooners have plenty of depth at the wide receiver position, including former Arkansas football standout Mike Woods. However, with the rate players enter the transfer portal and declare for the NFL Draft, Williams may earn some playing time at the wide receiver position down the line if he picks the Sooners.
Defensively, there’s no doubt Williams has the talent and physical chops to to earn some playing time for the Sooners. Williams’ instincts on the offensive side of the ball would serve him well working in the secondary, just as they have during his many highlight-reel plays in high school:
Gentry Williams as a USC Trojan
The USC Trojans are also a strong contender for Williams and have put one of the top recruiters in the country in charge of his recruitment.
Donte Williams, who serves USC’s cornerbacks coach and passing game coordinator, was recruiting Gentry at Oregon before accepting landing at USC. He and Williams are tight.
“I don’t really see Donte as a recruiter,” Gentry Williams told SI.com. “That is my go-to when I talk about life. When I talk about really anything. He has affected my recruitment very much.”
“He is just somebody I’ve really been able to connect with.”
The USC two deep roster is going to be losing some depth in the secondary this season and holes are going to open up for Williams. Trojan Chris Steele is a junior cornerback and Greg Johnson is a senior cornerback and both cornerbacks will be candidates to go to the next level.
Williams has the height at 6-0 to more than hold his own against some of the talented wide receivers in the PAC-12.
Williams recently made an official visit to the USC campus and came away impressed with the campus, program’s facilities and prestige.
He spoke more about USC and Donte Williams here:
Gentry Williams and Arkansas Football
The Razorbacks appear to have a bit of ground to make up to secure Williams’ commitment (he said he will likely announce in the fall), but they have some advantages as well.
For one, Williams told SI.com that staying close to home is an advantage.
“Playing for your hometown, there’s nothing that can compare.” Williams said. Whether that means staying in state or simply driving a couple of hours across the border to Arkansas is yet to be seen.
But Arkansas also has a few ins when it comes to personal ties to Williams.
He can go to Keuan Parker, his former teammate, to get the inside scoop, who to Myles Slusher, a native of the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow.
Myles and I talk all the time,” Gentry Williams told Davenport.
“He has high hopes for the Razorbacks. I’ve been knowing Myles for almost 10 years now. He’s just like a brother to me, so I’m just excited to spend some time with him.”
It’s also good news that Gentry Williams made a point of visiting the Arkansas football in late June instead of September, like he originally planned. It says something when a recruit will move up his official visit by two months. Williams informed Danny West of 247 Sports:
“The visit to Arkansas was very enjoyable. Just to spend time with Coach Carter and the whole entire staff at Arkansas was great. They were really nice to me and my family.”
Williams also told Arkansas football reporter Dudley Dawson: “I am glad I decided to take this official visit when I did. I was supposed to wait until the Arkansas-Texas game to take one, but I feel like this time was perfect. I am still going to come to that, but to be able to come now and spend a whole weekend and just hang out was great.”
Head coach Sam Pittman and his staff have done well enough to stay in contention for signing day. However, it will be a difficult task prying him away from USC or Oklahoma, which are the two crystal ball favorites on 247 Sports.
Whoever gets Williams will get a player comparable to the Carolina Panthers’ four year veteran cornerback Donte Jackson on the defensive side of the ball.
However, Williams’ versatility reminds me a bit of New Orleans five year veteran quarterback Taysom Hill. The young man can simply play everywhere asked of him. In the last few weeks, it appears Arkansas has closed the gap with USC and Oklahoma and is improving its chances.
After the late June visit, the Arkansas football program is easily in the top three for Williams.
The trick now is to move into the driver’s seat for his services. Arkansas football coaches continuing to show how the team is a family and showing how badly Williams is needed on defense is a good way to move into the top spot.