NFL Combine: How the narratives improperly capture Caleb Williams as a person

Of all the questions that Brenden Rice fielded on Friday, one of the easiest ones came from a familiar face.

"How does it feel being Jerry Rice’s son," USC quarterback Caleb Williams, standing among the media members, asked his teammate.

Rice had a telling response.

"It feels even better than being teammates with Caleb Williams," Rice said with a grin.

It was one of the few instances this week of a former teammate of Williams speaking highly of the quarterback that’s expected to be selected first overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

There’s a consensus among the football community that Williams is the top-rated prospect in this year's draft. Beyond that, plenty of others attested to Williams’ character as a teammate, but also as a person.

In a moment where Bears general manager Ryan Poles is going to base the future of the franchise off the character of the prospect, Williams earned more than his fair share of support during the week.

"He is a fun guy, cool guy," USC receiver Tahj Washington said. "It's different knowing them personally, so different perspective."

There are plenty of narratives that harangue Williams this past college football season. Plenty who did not interact with the quarterback on a regular basis labeled him as a bad teammate, or some sort of headcase, for some predisposed notion.

There was a narrative in the first days of February, put out on a national sports talk radio show, that maybe Williams did not want to play in Chicago? Williams reached out to refute that 24 hours later, but it’s one example of the things Williams has had to endure through the process.

The bottom line is those who were around him most spoke highly of him. Washington’s description of Williams as a person was simple, but effective.

"Fun, normal dude," Washington said.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 29: Caleb Williams #QB14 of USC poses for portraits at the Indiana Convention Center on February 29, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images)

Those who know Williams best know this doesn’t linger in his head. 

Olu Fashanu, his left tackle in high school, still keeps in touch with his former quarterback. He said those moments where the narrative doesn’t include Williams own voice are unfair, but that doesn’t deter Williams.

"It sucks when you see headlines of different quotes being taken out from a full paragraph but that’s just the name of the game," Fashanu said. "I know Caleb, it doesn’t affect him at all. He’s just going to keep being himself."

Who is that person, exactly?

"You can have a, ‘Wow, he's the famous Caleb Williams,’ but you get to talk to him, just a regular dude, man," Gonzaga High School football head coach Randy Trivers said. "This guy loves video games. He loves gummy candies, just love whatever it might be."

Trivers coached Williams at Gonzaga. He watched Williams grow into a star at the high school level before moving on to Oklahoma, and then win the Heisman Trophy and USC.

Across those years, he’s always been the same person to Trivers. His former head coach doesn’t see any outstanding ego or anything close to the narratives that have been pushed across plenty of platforms.

"The beauty of it is, if it's Caleb and I sitting here together, it's still Caleb and coach from five, six, eight years ago," Trivers said. "That’s the relationship."

Those relationships still exist with past teammates. Fashanu said he still keeps in touch with Williams. A the combine, Fashanu said he loves the idea of potentially being reunited with his former teammate at the next level.

That was something that Fashanu knew was a likely possibility for Williams. 

"At Gonzaga, everybody knew Caleb was that guy already," Fashanu said. "When he won the Heisman, I was not surprised at all. Everyone in that area knew that Caleb was special."

The relationship between Williams and his present-day teammates is pronounced, too.

There are those, like Washington and Rice, who attest to the quarterback’s personality off the field and as a teammate. The teammates on the other side of the ball played more into his competitive side, which produced different results.

"Every single day we went out to the field and we expect the best from each other and we're going to compete at a high level," USC safety Calen Bullock said. "Sometimes he's going to throw touchdowns and he's going to make sure I hear, make sure he come run to me and celebrating in my face."

But, Williams wasn’t a sore loser if the tables were turned.

"If I pick him off, I'm going to run to him, make sure he hears," Bullock said. "But every single day we just make sure each other was on each other's toes and make sure we going to compete to get each other better."

There are even those who Williams is in competition against now that will take the time to speak highly of him.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye, who is in competition to be the No. 1 overall pick, was asked about keeping an eye on Williams through the past year.

Maye didn’t hesitate to speak highly of his quarterback counterpart.

"I got to know him throughout high school and I'll be in the same class just rooting for him. Such a great guy. Got to see him here again," Maye said. "I know I genuinely enjoy being around Caleb."

Those who know Williams the best see how difficult it is for him to be who he is.

Plenty of words have been put in the 22-year old’s mouth. When he got to speak for himself on Friday, Williams’ patience in setting the record straight was evident.

That doesn’t take away from the high volume of teammates, colleagues, mentors and coaches who will not hesitate to speak on behalf of Caleb Williams as the person he is.

"He's, I think, a guy, a person that is extraordinary on the field and does extraordinary things," Trivers said. "What makes him really extraordinary that is that he's really an ordinary guy in a lot of ways."


NFL Combine: Caleb Williams didn't have to speak. He showed us he's ready to star instead

Williams, who is not working out at the NFL Combine, could have skipped it entirely. He still made time to set the record straight in multiple ways. He's ready to be a star in the NFL.