COLUMBIA — Jhonathan Williams wasn't expecting the phone call he got in mid-November.
Having verbally committed to Missouri, the 6-foot-6-inch, 230-pound high school defensive end wasn't really thinking about other colleges. But on Nov. 13, Notre Dame came calling and extended a scholarship offer to Williams, who is listed as a three-star recruit by 247sports.com. On Wednesday morning, two weeks after receiving his offer, Williams switched his verbal commitment from Missouri to Notre Dame.
Where: Memorial Stadium
When: 6:45 p.m., Saturday
"There were two really major factors," Williams said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "The first was definitely my family’s current situation. You know, it’s in the best interest to support and help my family by staying close to home. I also felt really welcomed by the players and the coaching staff. I felt at home there."
Williams' hometown of Berrien Spring, Mich., is just 30 minutes north of Notre Dame's campus in South Bend, Ind., so when the Irish entered the picture, they already had a leg up on Missouri in the location department. After visiting Notre Dame for its most recent game against Brigham Young University, Williams had seen all he needed.
"I've always known about the prestige of Notre Dame," Williams said. "It was a really great experience. Everyone was really positive, and I had a great time.
On Wednesday morning, Williams called Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski to inform them of his decision. Kuligowski was Williams' main contact during the recruiting process. The success Missouri has had developing NFL talent at defensive end was enticing, but Williams couldn't pass up a chance to stay close to home.
The recruiting process was slow to develop for Williams. He was committed to Toledo over the summer but started to pick up bigger and bigger offers as his senior season went on. Williams doesn't think much changed in his game. People just started to notice him.
"I live in a small town," Williams said. "I guess things just didn’t get out here like they do in bigger cities. Better late than never."
Not for Missouri. Williams' decision still leaves the Tigers with 25 verbal commitments for their 2014 recruiting class. Losing a defensive end of Williams' caliber hurts, though.
The only other defensive end Missouri has a verbal commitment from for 2014 is Rocel McWilliams, a three-star recruit from Pensacola, Fla. However, already at 230 pounds, McWilliams may bulk up enough to play defensive tackle in college.
With current Missouri sack leader Michael Sam graduating and Kony Ealy eligible to enter the NFL Draft a year early, the Tigers could lose depth at defensive end quickly. Markus Golden and Shane Ray have emerged as quality defensive ends behind Sam and Ealy, but the depth chart gets thin after that.
With the Feb. 5 National Signing Day still more than two months away, Missouri has time to make a late push on the recruiting trail to address the need at defensive end.
Either way, Kuligowski has a track record for developing talent at defensive end, regardless of how many stars are attached to a recruit's name.
"I just try to coach them all," Kuligowski said at media day on Monday. "I don't have any other option."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.