Meet Gavin Williams, the Drake Relays contender poised to become Iowa's next big football recruit

Matthew Bain
The Des Moines Register

PLEASANT HILL, Ia. — It’s no secret in college football recruiting: Iowa is known for producing elite linemen, not elite skill position players.

More Austin Blythes than Amara Darbohs.

More Ross Pierschbachers than Oliver Martins.

South East Polk sprinter Gavin Williams stands for a portrait at the school gym Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. But in terms of statewide excitement, guys like Martin or Darboh will draw more attention simply because they’re rare here.

Martin was the state’s elite skill guy for the 2017 class. Nobody quite reached that status for 2018. Lewis Central quarterback Max Duggan is the skill position headliner for 2019. And, for 2020, this state already has an heir-apparent:

Southeast Polk running back Gavin Williams.

"I don’t really think about that (attention)," said Williams, who already holds offers from Iowa and Iowa State. "There’s always going to be people who say things about you, if they’re good or bad. You just have to block them out and focus on what you have to do. And it’ll take care of itself."

Checking in at 6 feet and 200 pounds, Williams has received a four-star rating from 247Sports, which ranks him the No. 174 prospect in the 2019 class, 17th among running backs and first among prospects in Iowa.

Williams burst onto the scene two years ago when he amassed 805 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman. His production dipped slightly as a sophomore — 732 yards and 12 touchdowns on 154 carries. But his early-developing blend of size and speed is enough to draw college interest and such high ratings.

Or, put another way: He's a strong, daunting running back who also clocks a sub-11-second 100-meter dash, and he's a top contender for the 100-meter crown at the Drake Relays this week.

Williams has run Iowa’s third-fastest 100-meter time this season, at 10.92 seconds. West Liberty’s Tanner Iske has the fastest time (10.68), and Glenwood’s Nate Kennedy is second, at 10.86.

But Iske and Kennedy are 155 pounds.

Williams is 200.

That’s a lot of extra weight to carry around at such a high speed.

Southeast Polk's Gavin Williams competes in the 100-meter dash. Southeast Polk High School hosted the Ram Invitational on March 27.

"It’s nice to have," laughed Southeast Polk track coach Jason Nolting, who’s also a football assistant coach. "I’m glad we have him — that he’s on our team. He’s a big guy. I don’t think (his competitors would) want to tackle him on the football field."

So how does he do it? Obviously, running backs are fast. But how can one as big as Williams put up such impressive 100-meter dash numbers?

"He’s able to transfer a lot of his strength," said Nolting, who also said Williams' leg power translates well to the long jump. "He’s a big, powerful, explosive kid in the weight room.

"His top-end speed compared to a lot of those guys is right there. We’re trying to work on putting the whole thing together."

That’s why Williams is such an exciting running back prospect: Like many of his top-end peers, he’s got the size, power and vision to run between the tackles, and he’s got impressive quick-burst speed to squeeze through holes. 

But then, once he’s through the hole, he can quickly turn on his jets to reach his sustained, top-end velocity that he uses in the 100-meter dash — a kind of immediate acceleration that most 2020 running back prospects don't have.

"I can hit another gear and separate," Williams said.

Southeast Polk's Gavin Williams looks for running room against the Newton Cardinals at Rams Stadium Friday, Oct 1, 2017, in Pleasant Hill.

Iowa has seen some talented running back/sprinter blends in the past. Just last year, Isaiah Trousil capped a remarkable track career that featured three Drake Relays 100-meter titles and three 100-meter state championships at West Burlington/Notre Dame. He's now a running back at Northern Iowa.

But Trousil is a 5-9, 185-pound speedster — not a freight train like Williams, and not a Power Five prospect.

At this point, Iowa and Iowa State are the major players in Williams’ recruitment. He is in regular contact with new running backs coaches Derrick Foster and Nate Scheelhaase, both of whom he’s already met. He’s visited both campuses several times, and he’s considering participating in both schools’ camps this summer.

"They talk to me about something new every time," Williams said of Foster and Scheelhaase. "Maybe one time they’ll talk about the academic side, and another time they’ll talk about their weight room schedule with their nutritionist. Another time might be going around campus and showing me the basics of where everything is at."

Added Nolting: "They’re well-aware (of his track numbers). Track is kind of verified athleticism, in a way."

Nolting continued to say that, if he wanted to, Williams could also run track in college. He’s got projectable talent in the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump.

"We were actually just having a conversation," Nolting said. "He was, like, 'Well, maybe I could do both somewhere.' "

Maybe. That's a topic for another day. Right now, Williams just has the Blue Oval on his mind.

Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.