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What a fall without football taught USF’s Jarren Williams about his Miami missteps

The former four-star recruit fell from prolific Hurricanes starter to juco passer without a season in 11 months.
Former Miami Hurricanes starter Jarren Williams transferred to USF this offseason.
Former Miami Hurricanes starter Jarren Williams transferred to USF this offseason. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Mar. 11
Updated Mar. 11

Eleven months after being named the starting quarterback at Miami, Jarren Williams was stuck on a team without a season.

With all fall junior college games called off because of the pandemic, Williams had no opponents to prepare for or plays to run. Instead, the former four-star recruit had plenty of time to think through the circumstances that sent him halfway across the country and would eventually lead him to USF.

Related: USF quarterback competition expected to last into fall

Why was the quarterback of the future at one of the most storied programs in college football history suffering through a fall without football in Garden City, Kan.?

“It really taught me a lot about myself, honestly,” Williams said this week.

What Williams learned will determine whether he can make the most of his second chance in the Sunshine State and if he’ll have a chance at building his new program back toward respectability.

Jarren Williams opened the 2019 season against the Gators as Miami's starter.
Jarren Williams opened the 2019 season against the Gators as Miami's starter. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

Williams clearly has the talent to make it happen. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Georgia native was a U.S. Army All-American, a top-100 prospect and the final notable passer that quarterback developer Mark Richt ever signed.

To the surprise of everyone (including himself) Williams won the Hurricanes’ starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2019.

Related: Even Jarren Williams was a little surprised he earned the starting job

He performed admirably in his debut (a 24-20 loss to the Gators in the sport’s marquee opener) and put up solid numbers (19 touchdowns and a 145.44 passing efficiency) across 12 games, despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the country. His six touchdown passes against Louisville tied the ACC record and were the most in Miami history.

But there were others issues — on and off the field — buzzing around Williams. Rumblings that he wanted to transfer after his first season because he didn’t get a shot to bail out an ailing offense. Three interceptions in a rock-bottom loss to Florida International. “Multiple missteps” with his maturity, according to the Miami Herald.

Jarren Williams had an up-and-down career with the Hurricanes.
Jarren Williams had an up-and-down career with the Hurricanes. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

His defining performance, then, wasn’t the historic game against Louisville. It was two weeks earlier against Pitt. Williams reportedly skipped a practice, then came off the bench to throw the winning touchdown with 58 seconds left. Consider it a one-week summary of Williams’ Miami tenure.

Promising talent being weighed down by immaturity.

Less than a month after Williams and the Hurricanes struggled through a shutout loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, Miami added dazzling grad transfer quarterback D’Eriq King from Houston. Three days later, Williams hit the transfer portal. And six months after that, Williams was stuck at Garden City Community College without a fall season.

Jarren Williams's Miami career stalled late in the 2019 season, including a 10-point loss to Duke.
Jarren Williams's Miami career stalled late in the 2019 season, including a 10-point loss to Duke. [ CHRIS SEWARD | AP ]

“Through that time, I was trying to train,” Williams said. “I was doing different things and trying to keep myself ready.”

Part of the process to get himself ready: Figuring out what went wrong at Miami.

“The biggest thing is maturity…” Williams said. “There’s a lot of things you have to do off the field and on the field. Really learning — when I was in that position (at Miami), I feel like I wasn’t the best leader I could have been.

“There’s some things that happened. I’m glad that I went through that, because it’s made me a better person. I’m just grateful to have this opportunity right here.”

That opportunity at USF came after the Bulls did some soul-searching of their own.

Jarren Williams, wearing the No. 1 jersey, is one of four Bulls battling for USF's starting quarterback job.
Jarren Williams, wearing the No. 1 jersey, is one of four Bulls battling for USF's starting quarterback job. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

“When you go 1-8 or whatever it was and don’t have a whole lot of success offensively,” coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. said, “the quarterback position is the No. 1 position you need to look at.”

The Bulls decided they needed to inject a transfer with starting experience into a young position group. They liked Williams’ production and knew from his Miami film that he can make every throw in their offense. When they started recruiting him in the fall, they realized he had the intangibles they needed, too. Williams liked USF’s offensive minds and playmakers, and joined the Bulls in December as one of the most interesting transfer additions in the state.

Williams is still getting to know the playbook and his new teammates. The Bulls are still figuring him out, too, as he shares first-team reps with Cade Fortin in a four-man quarterback competition that’s expected to continue into August.

But three weeks of spring ball have already taught coach Jeff Scott one crucial thing about Williams.

“No. 1, he’s very mature,” Scott said. “I think some of his issues that he had at the school before here, I think he’d admit that he was a little bit immature and didn’t quite handle things really well.”

USF has been impressed with Jarren Williams' leadership so far.
USF has been impressed with Jarren Williams' leadership so far. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Williams does admit it. Although he didn’t get into details, he acknowledges that he didn’t handle the responsibility of being a starting quarterback well.

But that was before his fall without football, before the “very humbling experience” and the weeks of introspection in Garden City.

“There was a lot of stuff that happened back there,” Williams said of his Miami tenure. “But the good thing is, I’m here now.”