Now, the 20-year-old is a Heisman Trophy winner.
On Saturday in New York, Williams — much like he did on the field this year — left no doubt that the Heisman was his, securing the award given to the most outstanding player in college football in a decisive victory. Williams outraced Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, TCU’s Max Duggan and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud for the award.
Williams received 544 first-place votes. His 2,031 points easily beat out Duggan, who settled for second. Stroud finished in third place, followed by Bennett.
“I may be standing up here today, but y’all get to go to the College Football Playoff,” Williams said in his acceptance speech, in saluting the other finalists in front of him. “Guess you can’t win them all.”
Over the course of 13 games this season, the former five-star recruit from the Washington D.C. area dazzled with his play, throwing for 4,075 passing yards and 37 passing touchdowns and rushing for 372 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, as well as only four interceptions.
How he did it was through a display of consistent efficiency and an array of highlight plays that left teammates, coaches and fans alike in awe. His creativity and vision when plays broke down resulted in almost never throwing the ball away, but instead turning scramble plays and potential sacks into electric runs or miraculous passes.
Williams’ performance went beyond the numbers and highlights too. After head coach Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC last November, Williams followed and became the fulcrum for the Trojans’ turnaround from a 4-8 season to an 11-win team.
“While this may be an individual award, I certainly understand that nothing, in this sport or life, is done alone,” Williams said.
With Williams under center, USC started 8-0 for the first time since 2006 and defeated both of their rivals — UCLA and Notre Dame — in the same season for the first time since 2016.
Despite his age, Williams was tasked with a crucial responsibility once he joined Riley in moving from Norman to Los Angeles via the transfer portal. He was one of the only players who was intimately familiar with Riley’s style and his offense. At 19, Williams became one of the captains of the team and, on offense, a second coach on the field.
Though they fell one game short of winning the Pac-12 title and playing in the College Football Playoff, Williams’ leadership during a year of transition for USC helped the Trojans have one of the best turnarounds of the sport. Williams and USC are likely to enter 2024 as both Heisman and title contenders respectively.
Williams joins Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as the third quarterback Riley has coached who has won the award.
A product of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., Williams is the seventh official USC player to win the award (though Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman remains vacated) and the third quarterback from the school. He’s the first Trojan quarterback to win since Matt Leinart in 2004.