Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams was raised in power-hungry Washington, D.C.
There is no lacking for egos in our nation’s capital. Even humility can be perceived as a sign of weakness.
Williams has always subscribed to team before self, according to many who watched him grow into a man at Gonzaga College High School, a Jesuit Catholic institution located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
Williams was a three-year starting quarterback at Gonzaga, an all-boys high school with an enrollment of about 1,000. It would have been four years, but COVID wiped out his 2020 football season.
Williams developed into the nation’s top high school quarterback. He was recruited by several elite universities including Oklahoma.
Some teenagers would have loved the attention, never getting tired of being told how good they are compared to others. These days, social media only adds to a “big-man-on-campus” mentality.
That didn’t happen in Williams’ case. His football coach, Randy Trivers, said the star player mixed humility with self-confidence. There was no self-promotion. He kept everything business-like.
“I think the best compliment he ever got was from one of the English teachers,” Gonzaga headmaster Thomas Every said. “They said about midway through the year — after football season was over — that they didn’t realize that the kid in their class was the same kid who was the quarterback for the football team.”
The media has not been allowed to interview Williams during his freshman season, and his family has adopted OU head coach Lincoln Riley’s strict rule.
Williams did share his words via an online blog for Sports Illustrated. It gave a peek into Williams’ personality leading up to his trip to Norman.
Those close to Williams point toward his parents as being a strong force in keeping him grounded.
“He comes from a really good family,” Trivers said. “His mom and dad, foremost, are really, really good people. So we don’t want to sit here and take all the credit for who Caleb is as a person. His parents are really, really good-hearted and loving people who have raised their son well. They need to be credited foremost.”
Gonzaga did play a role in his development.
The slogan at Williams’ high school is “Men For Others.” It’s appropriate for an institution that houses homeless men on campus during winter and provides breakfast and lunch for those in need.
In one of Williams’ blogs, he discussed doing service for others.
“At our school we have our own Father McKenna Center. I just went and did a service there at the church at my school. It serves people who are homeless or hungry, people who need help finding jobs, getting back on track. It’s been there for a while. We go down there as students and it’s eye-opening. You go down there and it really humbles you. You go down there to work and help others out. It really helps you mentally,” Williams wrote.
“This service was at a different place with the food boxes, but it was about being ‘Men for Others.’ I’ve kind of instilled that in myself and Gonzaga has helped to instill that in me, with my coaches. We also preach it in football, even on the field. It’s helping each other out in practice, in the film room. It’s like a brotherhood-type thing.”
Williams’ style isn’t flash. While at Gonzaga, he was just a normal student walking the hallways of the 200-year-old school.
Many of his classmates probably predicted football greatness for him past Gonzaga. Deep inside, Williams likely understands that his future could mean playing NFL games on Sundays.
But he never shows that.
“He’s what we want our graduates to be,” Every said, “someone who is humble and selfless, who always gives their best and puts a positive foot forward while not being braggadocio.”
Williams showed up on the Gonzaga football field as a talented freshman. He beat out two solid juniors for the starting quarterback position.
It’s a similar situation to what has happened at OU. Williams took over for former Heisman Trophy favorite Spencer Rattler as the Sooners’ starter.
Williams has commanded respect from his Oklahoma teammates, much like he did when he took over at Gonzaga as a young freshman.
Robbie Mangas is a senior football player at Dartmouth. When Williams arrived at Gonzaga, it was Mangas’ final season.
Mangas was excited in his final high school season to have a 15-year-old quarterback who could throw the ball 75 yards.
What was it like when Williams — three years younger than him — took over as a Gonzaga team leader?
“A quarterback is just naturally a position requiring leadership. And I think he understood that early on, and just wanted to earn everybody’s respect through his work ethic,” Mangas said. “And I think that showed from the first week of camp; he just really worked hard, and, yeah, humble is an absolutely great way of describing Caleb, just somebody that earned everything that he deserves.”
Added Trivers: “When Caleb came here, he was a young man with a good blend of humility and self-confidence.”
The highlight of his high school career occurred at the end of his sophomore season when he launched a 53-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of a championship game. The YouTube video of the play has been seen more than 500,000 times.
Life came at Williams fast when he arrived in Norman last January.
He didn’t initially plan to enroll early at OU. But, in football terminology, an audible was called after COVID shut down in-person learning.
Williams chose to take his final semester of high school via virtual technology. He would simultaneously take college courses to become eligible for spring drills.
Williams also had to absorb an advanced football playbook that isn’t easy for any incoming freshman, let alone a quarterback.
Williams definitely put the “student” in student-athlete during the spring semester.
“We were doing virtual learning in our classrooms; it was a hybrid model, so our students had the option to come in person or to learn online. So every student has the same option,” Every said. “So it really wasn’t special for Caleb, from a Gonzaga perspective. For us, it was the same option as every other student. It was Oklahoma that allowed him to also enroll there. There was not much from the Gonzaga end other than you’ve got to fulfill our requirements and expectations. And he did that.“
OU running back Kennedy Brooks has already graduated. He knows how grueling the academic load can be for a student. He’s impressed with what his quarterback has already accomplished.
“It just shows how smart that guy is and how determined he was to be ready to play,” Brooks said. “It shows. I’m really proud of him and how far he came. We all still have a long ways to go, but he’s doing a great job.”
Williams celebrated his high school graduation during the first weekend of June, just a few weeks after finishing his first college semester.
Earlier this month, he returned to Gonzaga for the first time since leaving for OU. It was a great visit with his former classmates who were now sharing words with an emerging face of the college football world.
“It was cool, in a sense, because he’s done some really, really awesome things in an Oklahoma uniform,” Trivers said. “He’s one of ours and one of their brothers … it’s very meaningful being part of the Gonzaga football legacy.
“It’s a neat thing when different guys come back and talk, certainly with the timeliness of Caleb. Prior to last week, it was crazy that people are evening mentioning the big ‘H’ word (Heisman Trophy) around his name.
“People are talking about him all over the country, and here he’s just our guy back on our field and hanging out with us. It’s pretty cool.”