MIAMI — The recruiting process can start as early as freshman year with some high school football prospects.
For C.J. McWilliams, however, it took time for colleges to come after him.
“After my third season of high school, I wasn’t getting interest from any schools,” said McWilliams, a 3-star cornerback from Miami. “Coaches don’t really come by my high school (Southwest). Finally a big college noticed me and saw what I was capable of doing, so it was a dream come true.”
On May 1 of last year during spring football, McWilliams was called out of class a couple hours before his practice.
“I came down to the office and standing there was Randy Shannon,” said McWilliams, who only had one offer (Florida Atlantic) at the time.
The Florida linebackers coach and Miami area recruiter had watched McWilliams’ tape and came to evaluate him in person that day.
“He called me after practice and told me he liked my length and speed, but most importantly he was impressed with the way I play,” McWilliams said of his first conversation with Shannon. “He likes how I hit. I’m not scared to come up and make tackles, that’s why he offered me.”
A couple days later, McWilliams committed to the Gators. Cincinnati, Louisville, Miami and Nebraska offered him in the two months after his decision.
McWilliams appreciated their interest, but took it with a grain of salt.
“Every offer was a blessing to have,” he said. “But at the same time, I figured other schools just offered me because I had a Florida offer. They were kind of following the leader. That always crossed my mind.”
Central Florida, South Florida and North Carolina joined the race at the end of senior season. McWilliams had multiple coaches stopping by his school and house in the final month of the recruiting cycle.
“What those colleges saw in him late we’ve seen here at Southwest the whole time,” Southwest coach Tim Neal said. “He’s always been an explosive kid. I think when he excelled in track, that really opened up a lot of eyes around the country (10.73 in the 100 meters).
“But Randy Shannon came in right away and saw the ability of C.J. from the ground level. Coaches like that will be around for a long time. He realized right away the talent that everybody wanted in the end.”
McWilliams took officials visits to USF and Miami, while a trip to North Carolina fell through because of weather. But in the end, his first move was his best move.
“When I visited Florida, I knew it was the right decision,” McWilliams said. “It was a great environment and the campus is beautiful. I love the coaching staff.
“I want a good degree, and UF has one of the best. My dream is play in the NFL and they can get me there, too. So my future is bright because I’m a Gator.”
That was solidified by Shannon’s pursuit and recruitment of McWilliams.
“He’s been loyal to me since he offered,” McWilliams said of Shannon. “He stayed after me until the end, and that showed me loyalty. So I gave it back to him.
“He knows what he wants as a coach. He sees the unwritten superstars. He’s just got an eye for talent. That’s what I love about him.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi
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