Sports & Recreation

Bryson Williams

“My heart, my head — they finally agreed.”

Portrait of Bryson Williams wearing a red shirt printed with words "On Wisconsin"

Williams was heavily recruited by Nebraska after making a verbal commitment to the Badgers.

If Bryson Williams x’22 were a Nebraska Cornhusker, it would be hard to blame him.

The other Sea of Red flows through his veins: he was born in Lincoln, home of the University of Nebraska, to a family of devoted Cornhuskers, and he played high school football just a 10-minute drive from Memorial Stadium.

The UW freshman nose tackle was also priority number one for Nebraska’s new head coach, Scott Frost, a longtime Lincoln legend. Frost, the quarterback of Nebraska’s 1997 national championship team, returned to his alma mater with massive fanfare after coaching the NCAA’s only undefeated team last season, the University of Central Florida (UCF).

In early December, on the same day UCF won its conference championship game and less than an hour after Frost’s hiring leaked online, Williams received a phone call from a familiar voice. It was Frost, who had recruited Williams at UCF. Seemingly out of nowhere (the Cornhuskers’ previous head coach told Williams, point blank, that he would not receive an offer from the university), Nebraska was now interested.

“The next day, before he even got to his house in Lincoln, he’s at my house,” Williams says. A visibly exhausted Frost had come directly from his introductory press conference. “My mom was kind of starstruck. … He just told me he wanted me on the team.”

What should have been a dream come true was actually a source of internal conflict: five months prior, Williams had verbally committed to the UW. Because he couldn’t sign an official letter of intent until late December, his commitment to the Badgers was theoretical — at least to some. Williams quickly became a celebrity of sorts in Lincoln, with media, family, friends, and strangers all inquiring about his final decision.

“My mom had a lady follow her into the bathroom [to ask about me],” he says, laughing. “My mom hates when I bring that up, but that’s how passionate Nebraska fans really are.”

The recruiting process wasn’t always so eventful for Williams, who was considered a three-star (out of five) prospect. He attended a few summer camps in high school, where he first caught the attention of South Dakota and South Dakota State — his first two college offers. Months passed until he received his first offer from a major program (Kansas State). Eventually, as he developed into his 6′2″, 300-pound frame as a high-school senior, he received offers from nearly 20 schools, ranging from the UW and Iowa, to Virginia Tech and Duke, to Princeton and Yale. But the Big Ten was squarely his top priority.

The UW offered Williams a scholarship last June. Within a couple weeks, he visited campus — with stops at Camp Randall and the Terrace — and verbally committed, citing strong academics and a fast-developing relationship with the coaching staff.

“After taking all these visits, you kind of feel what’s real and what’s not real,” Williams says. “Certain coaches will try to sell you on the perfect scenario and tell you, ‘You come here, you’ll get this starting job, and after you graduate, you’ll have this, this, and this.’ Well, things don’t always work out like that. What if I get injured? How’s the education? How’s the life outside of football?”

In mid-December, with the sudden weight of his hometown on his shoulders and a scribbled pros-and-cons chart at his side, Williams announced on Twitter that he was sticking with his original commitment: “I want to be remembered [as] a man of my word,” he wrote.

“My heart, my head — they finally agreed,” he says now. “I haven’t switched my mind at all since.”

Published in the Fall 2018 issue


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