Lincoln Riley shares what makes USC QB Caleb Williams special
LOS ANGELES — Caleb Williams looked built for the spotlight on Friday.
The USC quarterback took it all in at Pac-12 Media Day. He held court in front of a massive scrum of reporters, talked to radio, talked to TV, talked about culture-building, talked about winning championships, talked about classes, and talked about whatever else anyone wanted to ask of him.
Williams didn’t say no. He finished up a 25-minute podium session and then talked to me as he left the main theater room for another few minutes about something incredibly unrelated to winning football games and did so with a smile.
It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago Williams was learning the ropes of college and shielded from talking to the media. (Lincoln Riley didn’t let freshmen meet with the media at his last school.)
“I think it’s important for everybody to remember he’s still young in his career,” the Trojan head coach said on Friday.
It’s easy to forget.
Mostly because Williams is so eager, so inviting, so unbothered by pressure.
“There’s no question he’s ready for this moment and ready for this challenge,” Riley said.
The challenge being contending for a Pac-12 title and keeping pace in the race for a College Football Playoff spot, but also the challenge of being the face of one of the highest-profile rebuilds we’ve seen in recent years. USC has big expectations in Riley’s first season. No one from USC’s contingent denied that fact at Media Day. Williams, still young and still learning the ropes, has that pressure squarely on his shoulders.
And Riley feels comfortable putting it there.
“Caleb has a great skill set. He does. That was pretty apparent the first time that I saw him,” Riley said. “You get a lot of guys that are really athletic quarterbacks but maybe leave something to be desired with accuracy or arm talent, or vice versa. Caleb is one of the rare young guys that has elite ability with both.
“Then I think for those of you that maybe got a chance to be around him a little bit, he’s got a very magnetic personality. He’s a guy that can get in any scenario, any room, feel comfortable, get along with people, be very present, has a great way with people. I think you’ve got the makings of a potentially great leader and a really great player.
Williams played in 11 games last season. But he opened the year as a backup and didn’t see extended action until Oct. 9 against Texas. He’s expected to challenge for the Heisman Trophy in 2022, which would require him to continue growing after what was a weird month of November last season—49% completion rate, 6.4 yards per pass, four scores to three interceptions.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. I think he’s very aware of that,” Riley said. “I think he’s a much better player right now than at any point last season, as we would expect him to be.”
Williams will debut with the Trojans on Sept. 3 against Rice.