And then there were five.
Lincoln football All-American Ishaq Williams, one of the nation’s more sought-after prospects, has whittled down his college list, at one time as long as 30, to five: USC, Syracuse, Penn State, Notre Dame and Alabama.
“The decision is gonna come down to where I feel most comfortable and I have the best opportunity to get better and get a good education,” said the 6-foot-6, 230-pound tight end/defensive end who has helped lead Lincoln to an 8-0 start. “I just went with the schools that stayed in touch the most and I feel most comfortable with. Comfort, that’s really big.”
Williams, the fourth-ranked defensive end in the country according to Scout.com, has set official visits with Syracuse (Dec. 11) and Notre Dame (Dec. 18) and would like to use all five, though that may be difficult with the playoffs starting Nov. 13. His father, Shaun, said Ishaq doesn’t necessarily need to take an official to Penn State because he has been to State College (Pa.) several times, including last Saturday’s 41-31 victory over Michigan.
“It was amazing, I had a great time seeing what an actual game would be like,” said Ishaq, who has 22 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries on defense and eight receptions for 68 yards and three touchdowns on offense.
Of the five, Syracuse would seem to be a surprise entrant. It is the alma mater of his parents, Shaun and Anastasia, who met there, and Ishaq did grow up in the central New York area until the age of 6.
Shaun Williams has lauded the work of Orange coach Doug Marrone, a Bronx native and Lehman High School graduate. A counselor of GED and ESL students at York College in Queens, Shaun Williams recently took several August Martin students, football players that aren’t necessarily up to Division I standards in terms of talent, up to Syracuse to tour the campus. Marrone took time out of his day, altering his schedule in fact, to talk with the football players.
“I thought he showed so much class,” Shaun said.
While Ishaq said he isn’t taking much credence in how each team performs during the season because all programs are due for good and bad seasons, Shaun said they are taking it into account. And while Notre Dame is struggling, Syracuse is thriving with a 6-2 record, including wins over West Virginia and Cincinnati.
“We think Coach Marrone is poised right now to really put Syracuse on the national map,” Shaun said. “He is really laying down the foundation for a winning program.”
Ishaq could also possibly be the face of the program, the biggest prospect Marrone has landed since he arrived in upstate New York three years ago, and could lure fellow city standouts like Brandon Reddish of Fort Hamilton and Shaquell Jackson and Wayne Morgan of Erasmus Hall to Syracuse.
The other schools are more established and offer plenty of positives. Alabama is the defending national champion with a former NFL coach in Nick Saban who knows how to produce pros; Penn State has offered Ishaq the chance to play tight end and is one of the nation’s premier football factories; USC may be dealing with NCAA sanctions, but is enjoying another solid season under new coach Lane Kiffin; and Notre Dame, another national powerhouse, is looking to create a new identity under Brian Kelly.
Ishaq has met with every head coach outside of Kiffin, whom he expects to see on a yet-to-be scheduled official visit to USC, and visited the other four schools, too, many more than once.
“We’ve been studying games, watching tapes, watching how they play, their schemes, how the players who play his position play,” Shaun said.
Ishaq still plans to commit during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas on Jan. 8, but Shaun said he could make his decision known before with a press conference at Lincoln in Coney Island. He is on pace to graduate from Lincoln in early January and plans to start taking classes at his new school in mid January.