Just a few months before Miami landed a commitment from 2020 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year and Safety, James Williams, Miami signed another blue chip Safety in February 2020 in Avantae Williams.
Avantae 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 forth in high school, and ultimately throwing up the U on National Signing Day.
Tae’s Rollercoaster Recruiting Ride
As 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 former Assistant 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.
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 the Coaching Staff, the Miami legacy at the Safety position, and Family ties.
The Coaching Staff Relationship
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.
“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.”
And even though now Utah State Assistant, Banda, was largely the point man in Tae’s recruitment, Williams says he has built strong rapport with new Defensive Backs’ coach, Travaris Robinson.
“I already had a coach relationship with him from when he was at South Carolina,” Williams said. “He is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”
@CanesFootball lands 4-star recruit, Avantae Williams! pic.twitter.com/hTb17sGaeq— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) February 5, 2020
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 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 historically 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.
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 last year, 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.”
In case you forgot, Avantae Williams is a Miami Hurricane pic.twitter.com/i9V5G1WDps— Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) April 21, 2020
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.”
As indicated by the various components at play, Tae’s approach to choosing Miami was a multi-faceted one.
To add one last hiccup, Avantae’s, as well as several other signees, enrollment was delayed due to the pandemic. After the circuitous path, the proverbial collective exhale when Avantae finally enrolled was felt throughout Coral Gables.
Avantae the Athlete
Coming in as a true freshman last year, Williams was listed at 6’0”, 180-pounds, which was 10 pounds heavier than his 247 listing where Avantae was on the smaller size for a safety. However, he has always played a lot bigger than his listed dimensions. Even more, on UM’s site, he is now listed at 198-pounds so he has effectively packed on almost 30 pounds which will make him 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 as a two-way safety. In vertical coverage, he exhibits a good ability to disrupt short plays in the flats. Further, when he had a smaller frame, Avantae had absolutely no problem laying down the hit stick or laying out to make shoe string open field tackles, which will be even more of a factor with his increased size.
While Avantae has drawn many comparisons to Arizona Cardinals, Budda Baker, due to his missile-seeking hit style, Williams’ style may also correlate with 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers draftee, Antoine Winfield Jr., based on his proficient ballhawking ability as well as a similar fearlessness as a two-way safety.
Beyond his versatility and athleticism on defense, Avantae is even more of a coaches’ dream due to his ability to be utilized in all 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.
2021 EXPECTATIONS AT THE U
After a knee injury his senior year, it appears injury issues lingered into his true freshman season last year. To that end, as last season approached, Miami announced that Avantae would be out for the season due to an undisclosed health concern that developed over the summer. However, Tae still found a way to be engaged with the team through meetings and on top of his academics.
“He’s a worker,” cornerback Te’Cory Couch said last year. “He comes to practice every day like he’s going to play. I just can’t wait for him to get out there with us. Not necessarily because he can’t really do much but he comes to practice and works hard.”
Miami freshman safety Avantae Williams ruled out for 2020 season, according to coach Manny Diaz.https://t.co/vLV0p3dEEN pic.twitter.com/M8kSPE8U7w— 247Sports (@247Sports) August 18, 2020
Prior to the announcement, Coach Diaz also noted that Avantae could take the time to heal, strengthen up, stay sharp, and become a true student of the game.
“It hurt me to not be out there with the guys, but as soon as I got the news, I was ready to go,” Williams said. “I worked hard in the offseason, so I was ready when my name was called.”
As last season came to a close, Miami re-evaluated Tae’s status and he was poetically cleared on March 5th - or 3-05 - as he took to his Instagram story that he “Got cleared on 3/05 that’s hard.”
After being cleared, Avantae’s presence lived up to advertisement during spring practices. In fact, he gained some of the highest praise possible from Coach Diaz after just the second practice by drawing a reference to the 18th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft as far as flashiness on the field.
“You think about him being two practices into his college career and when you ask the question about him, I think about Jaelan Phillips a year ago,” Diaz said. “We barely saw anything in four days and he of course had the season that he had. I am not saying Avantae is going to do the same thing Jaelan did because it is really early for Avantae.”
“He plays 100 miles per hour. When Avantae is on the field, the pedal is pushed down through the floorboard,” Diaz continued.
“He was all over the place today,” veteran safety Carter said of Williams.
Tae continued to shine this spring as he recorded an interception in the first Canes’ scrimmage. Off the field, he has also been proactively involved with Travaris Robinson in fine-tuning his game.
“Avantae is getting comfortable and adjusted to playing football again,” Robinson said. “He is a very physical guy, so showing him how to be physical with keeping his head up—so we have to clean up the technical issues with that—but he is a guy that loves football.”
Avantae Williams in his new No. 15 at his first spring practice after getting cleared. Miami defenders to wear that number the last couple of seasons have been pretty good.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 15, 2021
( Tim Brogdon / Miami Athletics) pic.twitter.com/hQBtVSMh1N
Obviously, if Tae had a year under his belt in Miami’s system, his anticipated involvement would likely be heightened. But regardless, 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, as a pivotal rotational player. If not used often on defense, he also has experience on Special Teams and he could easily assist 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 Senior, Gurvan Hall, and transfer, Bubba Bolden, who both return. They also have depth with Senior, Amari Carter. It could be a learning year for the youth movement. However, if the talent continues to ascend during the summer, Avantae will definitely challenge as the starting Safety alongside Bolden and will need to rise up the depth chart, in spite of Hall or Carter’s seniority.
Avantae Williams, the top recruit in Miami’s 2020 signing class and one of the top-ranked safeties in the country in that cycle, announced on his Instagram page Friday night he’s been cleared to play to play this spring. Williams missed the 2020 season with an undisclosed injury. pic.twitter.com/roPhiAQEKj— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) March 6, 2021
Based on Tae’s high ceiling potential, he should be able to make explosive plays when he sees the field as he features all of the traits necessary to be a key factor of the defensive unit. His prototypical safety traits are very moldable and will be a coaches dream.
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 signed four-star Safety recruit, Kamren Kinchens, and currently is warm on 2022 five-star safety, Kamari Wilson, as well as four-star, Markeith Williams. Needless to say, this Safety position is absolutely stacked for the foreseeable future.
BREAKING: Miami S Avantae Williams has been medically cleared. He posted the news on his Instagram story on Friday night.— Canes Access (@CanesAccess) March 6, 2021
Williams had been dealing with a neck injury since last fall. The freshman was the No. 1 Safety in the class of 2020. Great news for UM. pic.twitter.com/3I0NYaYGIZ
Due to the evolutionary style of the versatile Safety position, the combination of Avantae and James could be scary for opposing offenses. James has a pterodactyl-like frame as he is listed at 6’5”, 224lbs and should complement Avantae. Starting this year, 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 and the growth of a potential Miami great is going to be exciting to watch blossom in the years to come.