ATLANTA — The stories and stat lines didn’t add up to what Alabama right tackle Jonah Williams imagined in his mind.
Playing his sophomore season of high school at Davis High in California, all Williams heard were stories about Folsom High School and its electrifying quarterback, Jake Browning. So, when Williams transferred to Folsom midway through his sophomore year, he was expecting to block for a prima donna.
Instead, Williams was greeted by the former four-star quarterback, who walked up after practice wearing an old, worn-out t-shirt and welcomed him to the team.
“I heard his name, and you kind of assume a superstar quarterback is going to have an ego and stuff like that,” Williams said of Browning. “We had our first little day of practice my first day at Folsom, and he came off the field and introduced himself to me because I was the new kid. I kind of figured he’d be too good for that.”
To be fair, Browning had similar preconceived notions about Williams prior to that first day as well.
“I remember when he first got there we were thinking he’d be just some other kid that transferred in,” Browning said. “He walked through the door, and I was like, that guy might have a chance to be a good player.”
The two former teammates will go up against each other Saturday in the Peach Bowl, as Williams’ No. 1 Alabama faces Browning’s No. 4 Washington with a trip to the national championship on the line.
During their time together at Folsom, Williams said Browning quickly became one of his best friends. The two still talk on the phone after every game and go over their performances on the day. This season, those conversations haven’t had many negatives.
Browning, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards and 42 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Williams, a true freshman, has started all 13 games at right tackle and was selected as a Freshman All-American by USA Today and ESPN.
However, due to the circumstances, the two have currently agreed to put those phone conversations on hold until after the game.
“I think, for the sake of our friendship, we really aren’t talking a lot of football this week,” Williams said. “We’ve been good friends for a long time, so there’s not a lot of animosity or anything. It’s definitely competitive spirit, though. He wants to win and I want to win.”
Williams refers to Browning as a mentor and says the quarterback set an example during the recruiting process. Like Browning, Williams was a star recruit out of high school, earning a five-star rating from the 247Sports Composite rankings, which labeled him as the No. 17 recruit overall and the No. 2 offensive tackle in the nation.
The 6-foot-5, 296-pound offensive lineman also followed in Browning’s footsteps, enrolling early into college and starting right away. A year older than Williams, Browning says he was more than willing to pass down some advice to his former teammate. Knowing how tough the transition from high school to college could be, Browning’s advice was simple.
“Keep quiet, work hard,” Browning said when asked what he told Williams. “You don’t want to come in and be the guy that’s gonna be, look at me, I’m the whatever-ranked recruit. You just want to come in, lay low, work hard. Have a personality, obviously, but you don’t want to be the loudest person in the locker room coming in. I don’t think he would have been even if I didn’t tell him that.”
Williams grew up in Atlanta before moving to California after his freshman year of high school. He said it's a surreal feeling to not only come back to his hometown but also play against one of his best friends.
During preparations for the game this week, Williams said the team has worked its first-team offense and defense against each other in practice. The full-speed reps served as a reminder of how fast and dangerous Alabama’s defense can be.
When asked if he thought Browning had any idea of what is coming his way Saturday, Williams smiled, stating there’s really nothing comparable to what the Tide rolls out on defense.
“He’s a pretty level-headed guy,” Williams said of Browning. “But there’s a storm coming.”
As close as they are, Williams is going to have to let Browning find that out the hard way.