In surprise news this past week, the Canes landed a commitment from five-star safety, James Williams. But just a few months prior this past February, Miami landed another highly touted safety when Avantae Williams signed his letter of intent at the end of the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Avantae Williams was not only the top recruit in Miami’s 2020 class, but was one of the most laudable recruits for the program in some time. At the time, Avantae “Tae” Williams was regarded as the fifth highest ranked Defensive Back to commit to Miami since 2000. Avantae also became Miami’s highest ranked defender to sign with the Hurricanes since five-star defensive lineman, Chad Thomas, joined the program in 2014.
However, the high school road that led Tae to Miami was far from a straightforward one - filled with commitments, decommitments, transferring back and in forth in high schools, and ultimately throwing up the U on National Signing Day.
Tae’s Rollercoaster Recruiting Ride
While a Freshman at DeLand High School and an unranked recruit at the time, Williams initially committed to Miami in February 2017. That same week, Miami picked up a commitment from Williams’ cousin, Lorenzo Lingard, for their 2018 recruiting cycle.
The relationship between Avantae and the U actually commenced years prior to the original early-2017 commitment. Miami’s Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach, Ephraim Banda, developed dialogue with Tae since he was in middle school on unofficial visits and through electronic conversations.
After his initial commitment and heading into his Sophomore year, Avantae ventured to the west coast of Florida to play at IMG Academy in Bradenton. Thereafter, Williams de-committed from Miami in May 2018 and ended up transferring back to DeLand for his Junior and Senior seasons.
In December 2018, Avantae verbally committed across the country to the Oregon Ducks, at a time when he was ranked 43rd best player in the country (number 2 safety) according to 247Sports Composite Rankings.
The Avantae watch became even more interesting his senior season when he de-committed from Oregon in December 2019, leaving his decision announcement to be determined on National Signing Day in February 2020. Heading into Signing Day, Tae was heavily favored to sign with Florida or Georgia, but he had a laundry list of suitors, including Miami.
In the month leading up to Avantae’s announcement, Lingard transferred to Florida. And the week prior to Signing Day, Ed Reed, former Miami legend at the safety position, became the the new Chief of Staff at the U.
So what swayed Tae to join the Canes? Well, Avantae appears to have taken a prudent approach and multiple factors played a role in his ultimate decision, including Banda and the Coaching Staff, the Miami legacy at the Safety position, and Family ties.
Banda and Coaching Staff
Even though Avantae’s process was turbulent, Miami kept their foot on the throttle and were persistent in their pursuit of the star safety. At numerous times in the recruiting process, Williams credited the great relationship with the coaching staff and recruiters as to why he joined the Canes.
“The relationship with the coaches,” Williams told InsideTheU when asked about his decision. “I have a great relationship with [Coach Banda], [Coach Diaz], [director of recruiting David Cooney], everyone on the defensive staff, actually everyone really. It was a gut feeling and it’s where I felt like I needed to be.”
“It is a massive exclamation point,” Diaz stated in response to Williams’ announcement. “I think we have known Avantae since the summer coming out of eighth grade. This is a four year relationship. Coach Banda has been the point man for us on that one. He was committed to us early, but we never gave up on him.”
While not a part of the Canes coaching staff directly, the addition of NFL Hall of Famer, Ed Reed, to the Canes’ organization could have played a factor as well. Of note, Avantae participated in the Under Armour All-American Game in the month leading up to Signing Day, in which Reed was a coach on Williams’ team. Even though there is a sensible connection here, Williams claims Reed was not the reason the needle moved into Miami’s favor:
“It’s cool, but that’s not why I made my decision,” Williams told 247Sports. “It’s the guys that have been there. I’m going to Miami because of my relationship with those guys.”
Miami Legacy at the Safety Position
Speaking of Ed Reed, the opportunity to continue the legacy of Miami greats, specifically those at the Safety position, may have attributed to Avantae’s selection.
“I want to continue that legacy. Sean Taylor. Ed Reed. Ray Lewis. The Rock.” Williams told 247Sports Ryan Bartow. “It’s crazy the people that played there and are part of that legacy. My mom loves Miami’s legacy.”
“Sean Taylor is the guy I really look up to,” Williams said. “He loves to hit and his story matches mine. I can relate to him a lot. I wish I could have met him. We both went through the struggle on the way up. That struggle is what made me and it is what made him. I am thankful for the struggle.”
Even though Miami has often been recognized as *Insert Position* U, the argument could be made that the Canes are most popular as SafetyU. The Canes have had some absolute ballers come through the program including Reed, Taylor, Darryl Williams, Fred Marion, Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Bennie Blades, Brandon Meriweather, and Jaquan Johnson. The legacy appears ripe to continue with Avantae and James Williams joining the forces.
When Tae initially committed to Miami in 2017 the same week as his cousin Lingard, he told 247Sports, “The first reason was because Lorenzo committed there and why not? That is my team.”
Thus, when making his official announcement this past February, it would not have been a surprise if he chose Florida, where Lingard had transferred the preceding month. However, Williams quickly dismissed that narrative.
“I‘m my own man, that’s one thing I’m going to say,” Williams said when addressing the media on Signing Day with regards to Lingard and the connection to Florida. “I’m my own man.”
Ultimately, however, the biggest factor (or two) in Tae’s decision were also family-based - his children, Sevyn (15 months old) and Avantae Jr. (four months). This makes perfect sense why he opted to de-commit from west coast powerhouse, Oregon, and stay local.
“That’s the start of being a good father,” Williams stated on Signing Day. “Doing that and putting the kids first, you second. Everything will fall out for itself. I have to be close to my kids, and I need to be able to see them. I can’t have to travel a whole day just to see them. I had to be realistic there.”
In addition, the fact that coach Banda has two children, and could relate to Avantae in that area, may have played a part in bringing him to the Canes. As indicated by the various components at play, Tae’s approach to choosing Miami was a multi-faceted one.
To add one last hiccup, enrollment was delayed for several signees these past couple months. But, Avantae finally moved into UM in late June. After the circuitous path, the proverbial collective exhale when Avantae finally enrolled was felt throughout Coral Gables.
Avantae the Athlete
Listed at 5’11”, 170lbs, Avantae is definitely on the smaller size for a safety. However, he plays a lot bigger than his listed dimensions and if he can effectively pack on 15-20lbs, he will be an even more imposing weapon in the secondary.
Tae has incredible range in the secondary and dominates when designated as the centerfield Safety while monitoring deep coverage. In addition, he has exceptional versatility with a good nose for the football and could easily be lined up in nickel coverage or in the box on occasion. In vertical coverage, he exhibits a good ability to disrupt short plays in the flats. Even more, despite his small frame, Avantae has absolutely no problem laying down the hit stick or laying out to make shoe string open field tackles.
While Avantae has drawn many comparisons to Arizona Cardinals, Budda Baker, due to his hitting style, Williams’ style may also correlate with 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers draftee, Antoine Winfield Jr., based on his proficient ballhawking ability.
Beyond his versatility and athleticism on defense, Avantae is even more of a coaches’ dream due to his ability to be utilized in all three phases of the game. Notably, due to his speed and physicality, Tae excelled as punt returner at DeLand High School. Also, even though he is not likely to be used on offense, Avantae did play RB in high school.
Despite being unranked when he originally committed to Miami in 2017, Williams was pegged as having a lot of potential and tallied 77 tackles and two forced fumbles his freshman year. By his Senior Season, Tae was well-known in all scouting circuits as he earned an invitation to the Polynesian Bowl and, as indicated above, ended up playing in the prestigious Under Armour All-American Game. Williams earned these accolades despite missing over a month of his Senior season due to an early season knee injury. Even with the missed time, Avantae made 40 tackles, forced three fumbles, and intercepted a pair of passes.
Avantae also showed improvement in his testing drills. In particular, in February 2017 at the Opening Orlando performance, Williams ran a 4.72 40-yard dash and a 4.65 shuttle. Just two years later in February 2019 at the same performance, Tae ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and improved his shuttle to 4.25.
Expectations at the U
Now that Miami has turned in some pretty significant recruiting slots at the Safety position, it will be interesting to see how the staff utilizes Avantae. It is expected that Williams should be an immediate contributor, at the very least, on Special Teams as part of the kickoff/punting coverage team due to his instinctual traits and/or as a punt returner.
There is not an immediate need to throw him in as a starting Safety because the Canes currently have capable veterans in Junior, Gurvan Hall, and transfer, Bubba Bolden. They also have depth with Senior, Amari Carter, and Sophomore, Keontra Smith. It should be a learning year for the freshmen in the Safety Unit, Williams, Jalen Harrell, and Keshawn Washington.
Regardless, based on Tae’s high ceiling potential, he should be able to make explosive plays when he sees the field. Should there be any setbacks at any of the secondary positions due to injury or otherwise, Avantae could carve out a nice spot for himself as a True Freshman.
Expect Avantae to truly catapult on the Canes secondary in 2021. Miami will have two Swiss army knives in the two Williams, Avantae and James, the latter of which has drawn comparisons to Isaiah Simmons. Miami also has received a commitment from four-star recruit, Kamren Kinchens, and are currently listed in Corey Collier’s final five. Besides Carter, all of the other Safeties listed above have remaining eligibility. Needless to say, this Safety position is absolutely stacked for the foreseeable future.
Due to the evolutionary style of the versatile Safety position, the combination of Avantae and James could be scary for opposing offenses. James is listed at 6’4”, 220lbs and should complement Avantae. Miami can get creative and find ways to assimilate both Williams’ into a variety of schematic formations based on their exceptional range and dynamism.
While the path to get Avantae to Miami was a windy and turbulent one, seeing him in Orange and Green over the next three to four years will be well worth it. Hopefully Tae will draw comparisons and follow in the footsteps of former great Miami Safeties such as Reed, Taylor, Phillips, Rolle, and Blades. As he indicated on Signing Day, Avantae is “his own man”, and he should be ready to make his own mark at SafetyU.