No one smiles bigger than Duaron Williams. But not even the man they call "Big Dawg" had ever smiled as big as he was Thursday night.
The broad smile on the face of the 6-foot-4, 294-pound offensive lineman from Orlando Jones High said it all. The "Big Dawg" was ecstatic in deciding to take his football skills to Iowa State University, and no lips were going to conceal that happiness.
"It's been a long year this year, my senior year ... starting off with tearing my ACL to now, getting ready to commit. It's been nothing but God, that's who I give all the glory and honor to, so let's not wait around," Williams said prior to his choice and then he donned the hat. "I've decided I'm going 'All In,' baby ... Iowa State."
Williams took his fifth and final official recruiting visit to Ames, Iowa, last week and came away unfazed by the winter cold and wind on the Midwestern plains. Not even 14-degree temperatures were cold enough to overcome the warmth of hospitality he and mom Angela Williams were greeted with from the people of Ames.
"I just loved it up there," Williams said. "It was a family atmosphere, good players, my former teammate Willie Scott is up there, so it just felt like the right place to be."
Scott was one of about 10 current and former Jones players on hand to support Williams, who picked ISU over hometown UCF and Kansas.
"They have a great fanbase up there and they have a program that I believe in and I want to be a part of," Williams said.
"The motto of the program is 'All In,' and that’s the kind of player I am. I want to put it all in. My goal is to play my freshman year, so I'm going to go up there with my hard hat and my lunch pail ready to work."
As for UCF, it was another commitment moment during which the black-and-gold hat remained sitting on the table.
"UCF was close to home and that's one thing I did like about it and that's why I stuck with them throughout the process," Williams said. "It was always good to have that option that my mom would be able to see every single game I played in at home.
"But, at the same time, she told me she didn't mind if I left. She said she'd come support me and that's all I cared about. As long as she was happy, I was happy."
And of course he also turned down the coach he was somewhat in awe of in new Kansas head coach Charlie Weis, who came to the Williams' home this past Saturday to make his Jayhawk pitch.
"You can't say yes to everybody," Williams said, drawing laughter from his guests. "If I could, I would have committed to 30 different schools at the same time, but I'm happy with Iowa State. I believe in the program, I believe in the coaches and I believe we're gonna do some good things up there."
Williams was concerned about his recruitability in September, after tearing his ACL in the first game of the season at Lake Wales, shutting him down for his senior year. Several schools, however, stuck with him and his three finalists were there because of the loyalty, Williams said.
It was certainly a trying year for Williams, but his focus, determination to get back on the field and his faith in believing his future had a secure destination was unwavering. It was difficult for Williams to separate his final three schools, but in the end, it was the Iowa hospitality and warmth he received from the people in the "Food Capital of the World."
Shortly after telling his house full of guests where he'll be headed, he pulled out his cell phone to call Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, who's excitement was obvious as Williams placed the coach on speakerphone.
"I'm standing here with my family and friends coach. I'm coming to Iowa State," Williams told Rhoads. Williams then said, "We're going to party it up tonight."
The Cyclones are getting a player who earned the 2010 National Underclassmen Combine Offensive Lineman MVP, who will graduate in the spring with a GPA well over 3.0 and a man who was voted by his Jones classmates as this year's homecoming king.
His popularity and that smile are infectious. He's a big teddy bear off the field but get him between the tackles and a ferocious confidence overcomes him. He'll likley play both guard and tackle at Iowa State.
He rarely lost in one-on-one drills wherever he went on the summer combine tour. He'd call out anyone willing to take him on and yet was always gracious in defeat.
"I just felt at home at Iowa State and my mom loved it, too," Williams said.
Ahh yes, mom also made the trip to the Corn Belt to check out what Coach Rhoads had to offer, and everything was met with approval from Angela Williams.
"I'm a little sad, but I'm glad for him ... very glad for him," Ms. Williams said. "I love Iowa State. It was cold but I loved it. It was a real family atmosphere."
Not only was it a difficult process for Duaron to go through, but mom was there every step, as well.
"It was an experience," she said. "I really wasn't aware of the coaches contacting, the home visits, so that was a new experience for me."
But she met the challenge well, serving up meals for many of the coaching visitors. One coach in particular, Colorado State linebackers coach Bernard Clark, really enjoyed the home-cooked fare, according to Duaron.
"He had a good time eating my mom’s food,” Duaron said.
Angela Williams raised Duaron with help from friends and family after Duaron's father, Charles Allen Williams, died of a heart attack at the age of 43 in 2001. Duaron was 8 years old.
Wiliams did have someone to turn to back then. Former Orlando Evans, University of Miami and NFL star Kenard Lang was always around, coming back to Orlando during the offseason. He attended the same church as the Williamses and was a good friend of the family.
It was Lang who got Williams started playing football in eighth grade, but the big fella didn't exactly enjoy the sport at first. Lang, however, said it was his work ethic that stood out among the others.
Lang was out of town and could not attend the gathering, but Williams said, "He'll tell you ... I called him about 107 times today about this decision."
Lang said last year during Williams' junior season, "The good thing about him is he always strives to be the best. Duaron never played football, I'd say, till his seventh- or eighth-grade year, but I knew he had the work ethic.
"I never knew to what magnitude it would be for him, how good he'd be, because he started football so late."
It was something else that Lang said to Williams in the early stages that rings loud and clear now. Sure, Williams had everything at his fingertips, he was on top of the world after the NUC honor before his junior year, but that doesn't pave your way, as Lang often reiterated.
"The main thing that I told him is, 'When you start receiving offers, you better breathe easy and keep your head small. Don't walk around with your chest all poked out with a big head because nothing is etched in stone,' " Lang said.
That torn ACL certainly was not etched in the playbook, but through Williams' determination and his faith, he's still on the path to playing NCAA Division I-A college football. That path now leads to Ames, Iowa.
"I'm happy now," Williams said.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times