BLACKSBURG — Defensive tackle Jordan Williams heard a ticking clock when his name hit the transfer portal.
He waited until Clemson’s season ended with a 49-28 loss to Ohio State on New Year’s Day in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff to announce he was leaving, but that left him little time to find a new home.
Williams wanted to take advantage of the immediate eligibility he earned by graduating in December with a communications degree by enrolling at mid-year wherever he ended up. Most schools start their winter semester in the middle of January.
He signed with Virginia Tech on Monday — and will move on Sunday when the rest of the team reports — after a “hectic and stressful” recruiting process he compared to speed dating.
“You have to find out everything you can about these programs, coaching staffs, and defenses just back-to-back,” Williams said in a phone interview with The Roanoke Times.
The former four-star recruit had teams from across the country flood his phone with texts and phone calls the minute he officially entered the portal.
“I didn’t know in the portal all your information is in there,” Williams said with a laugh. “I had a lot of unknown numbers come up.”
Virginia Tech co-defensive line coach Darryl Tapp was part of that initial barrage and ran point for the Hokies on Williams’ recruitment. Tapp was an ideal choice given his NFL pedigree and their shared ties to the 757 region. Tapp, a Portsmouth native, attended Deep Creek High School while Williams went to Virginia Beach.
They connected right away, but Williams also had a number of conversations with defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton and head coach Justin Fuente.
Fuente was the only coach left on staff who recruited Williams when he was coming out of high school. Tech was a finalist at the time with Clemson and Virginia for Williams, who was the No. 167-ranked player in the country in the 2017 class, according to 247 Sports composite rankings. He had 29 scholarship offers and was the fifth-ranked in-state recruit coming out of Frank W. Cox High School.
He spoke with almost the entire defensive staff this time around at least once by the time he committed. Williams called Fuente on Saturday to deliver the news, but made his mind up almost a full week earlier.
“I kind of had an idea where I wanted to go,” Williams said. “I came home for a few days [from Clemson] and talked things over with my parents. I told coach Fuente first. He was fired up. He was ready to get to work right away and get me on campus and get me in school and get me working with the guys.”
The relationships Williams had with Tech’s coaching staff helped as did his familiarity with the campus — he visited the school during his recruitment coming out of high school, but he knows they have made significant improvements to their facilities in recent years — and he enjoyed the idea of a homecoming of sorts in returning to Virginia, but none of those were the driving force behind his decision.
“I just really wanted to know more about the ball aspect,” Williams said. “I’m very fortunate to get my degree at Clemson. School is definitely a priority for me, but every school I talked to had a great masters program, but I was mainly focused on the football aspect. It was strictly a football move.”
Williams had a series of questions for each school that was interested in him about their defense and how they planned to use him. He has two years of eligibility left, but he made it clear to all prospective schools that he wanted to use the 2021 season as a springboard into the NFL.
He left Clemson with 55 career tackles (32 solo) with 9.5 for a loss and four sacks. He played 673 snaps in three years.
“I had a goal in mind, I had a plan, I wasn’t going to leave Clemson for any other reason to accomplish my goal and my dreams,” Williams said. “In my opinion, I just have a lot of things I want to put on film before I take the next step to the NFL. … I was just asking teams what kind of scheme they ran and what kind of fronts they ran, some of the types of movements.”
Schools that met his criteria included Michigan, USF, Texas Tech, Minnesota and Oregon State, but it didn’t take long for Virginia Tech to jump ahead of the pack.
“They explained to me how they can use me in their system and how their defense fits the type of player I am with my athleticism, my speed, my strength and my ability to rush the passer and stuff like that,” Williams said. “They just hammered that in — how much of an impact I can make for them in the type of scheme and type of system they run as well as the type of culture they have.”
Tech was down to six scholarship defensive tackles after Jarrod Hewitt opted to leave for the NFL. Senior DaShawn Crawford is coming back and Jaden Cunningham is likely to return as well after opting out of the 2020 season, but he’s recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
Williams gives Tech a potential impact player up front and championship experience that he’s hoping rubs off on his new teammates in the coming months.
“Coming from Clemson that’s all I know, the playoffs, the CFP I’ve been every year and won a national championship there,” Williams said. “I’ve been fortunate to do that and win four ACC championships. I feel like that’s what Virginia Tech wants to get done and get accomplished. I feel like being a guy that’s been able to get it done. I know what it takes. I feel like I can bring some of those things to the locker room, the practice field, to the defensive line room and defense and stuff like that to help Virginia Tech accomplish those goals they want to reach.”