Photo by Jared Thomas

By Robert Wilson

RIDGELAND – Ridgeland High’s Ayden Williams – rated the No. 1 wide receiver in Mississippi and one of the Top 20 in the country in the Class of 2023 – announced Sunday afternoon he was verbally committing to Ole Miss.

And for those Ole Miss fans who don’t know Williams, Ridgeland head football coach Teddy Dyess described what Williams is all about Sunday at Williams’ news conference in the Ridgeland library.

Dyess, who starts his 22nd season as a high school head coach this year, knows a standout player when he sees one. He has won 212 games in those 21 seasons and won six state titles, two as a player, one as an assistant and three as a head coach.

Dyess has seen major growth in Williams both on and off the field since Dyess became Ridgeland’s head coach and athletic director a year and half ago.

Photo by Jared Thomas

“Ayden has grown up a lot of ways,” Dyess said. “You look at his body. He’s filled out. Ayden is 190 pounds now. When I got here, he was about 175. More importantly, one of our players scored a touchdown Friday night (in the jamboree against Murrah) and you can see Ayden sprinting up and down the sidelines, having fun. He’s starting to enjoy it and seeing other people have success and other people doing great things. Ayden’s a great person. I’ve watched him grow up. He sought extra attention. Not in a bad way. Ayden’s more just blending in now and being one of the guys. When you see him in the hallways, he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing, he’s going where he’s supposed to be going. Ayden’s also leading the younger guys and setting a good example for them on what Ridgeland football is all about. What it’s going to be about now and what it’s going to about in a few years.”

And then there’s the work Williams has put in. He’s talented, but he works hard as well.

“Ayden does a whole lot of extra work,” Dyess said. “He trains at Espy Performance. He’s always doing something to get better. Probably the biggest thing Ayden has done over the last six months, he has fell in love with the weight room. You can see a change in his body. When he gets the ball in his hands, he will try to hurt you when you try to tackle him. It’s almost like you are putting the ball in the hands of a running back. Ayden will drop those shoulders on you and gain those extra yards.”

And his success at the next level?

“Ayden is 6-2, 6-3, 190, can run like a deer and has great hands. He’s kind of what the SEC receivers look like right now,” Dyess said. “When he gets into the college system, eating three meals a day that they require them, starts lifting weights with a graduate assistant that’s right there with him every step, gets coached every day playing nothing but receiver, not having to flip over and play cornerback and other things, you are going to really see this kid take off. You are really going see his true potential and what he can do. He’s a special talent and a special kid and going to do a lot of great things.”

Sunday could be the start of Ridgeland’s road to the state championship, Dyess said.

“Our goal is to win a state championship, and this (Williams’ decision) won’t be a distraction going forward,” Dyess said. “Ayden has made up his mind. He knows where he wants to go. When the season gets going, he won’t have to worry about Tennessee, LSU, Florida and Florida State and different schools bugging him as much. Ayden’s mind is made up and his future is set for him. He’s going to be able to focus on being a great high school player and enjoy his season year of high school.”

Williams comes from a solid family background. His father, Lorenzo Williams, works for the Jackson Police Department and his mother, Kamari Hayes, works as a special education teacher in Pearl. Williams’ dad played football at Jackson State. Williams’ half-brother, Jermany Hayden, is a freshman running back at Northwest Rankin.

Dyess – who has been a head coach at Lumberton, Philadelphia, Magee and now at Ridgeland – has coached current college players like Mississippi State’s Tulu Griffin at Philadelphia, Auburn’s Cayden Bridges at Magee, Southern Miss’ Chandler Pittman and Zay Franks at Magee, current Seattle Seahawks’ Greg Eiland at Philadelphia, and former NFL receiver Mike Espy when Dyess was an assistant at Madison Central.

Dyess can add Williams to the list of rising collegiate stars. A member of the first team on the PriorityOne Bank Metro Jackson Team and Preseason Elite 11 Team for the past two years, Williams caught 73 passes for 1,169 yards and 18 TDs and helped Ridgeland to a 6-5 record last season as a junior. He also had 11 carries for 81 yards and 2 TDs and 6 kickoffs for 100 yards. He is rated as the No. 2 player in Mississippi and No. 19 wide receiver in the country in the Class of 2023 by 247 Sports Composite.

Ridgeland offensive coordinator Caleb Shufelt has been impressed with Williams’ development, leadership, and commitment.

Photo by Jared Thomas

“This summer, Ayden didn’t miss a single workout, sprint, repetition in the weight room,” Shufelt said. “He’s taken ownership of the team and has moved into that leadership role. We all know what he can do on the field, but it’s the steps he’s taken as a leader that has been most impressive.

“Ayden knows the assignment for the year, he knows what’s expected of him. We’ve put a lot on his plate, we’re going to challenge him and so far, he hasn’t batted an eye.

“The game can take him as far as Ayden wants to go as long as he stays focused on the task at hand. I can’t wait to see where it takes him. I’ve enjoyed being able to be a small part of the journey.”

Williams made his announcement in front of several dozen family, friends, and media and also in front of a national tv audience on 247Sports YouTube channel. He had narrowed his choice to Ole Miss, Jackson State, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee in May. Williams had caps of Ole Miss, Jackson State, LSU, and Tennessee at his table Sunday. He also had Division I offers from MSU, Southern Miss, Jackson State, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida State, Colorado, Oregon, Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana Tech and Central Florida.

Williams likes Ole Miss, head coach Lane Kiffin and a chance to play in the SEC against some of the best players in the country, many of whom will also be in the NFL one day. Williams also likes being at the same school where current NFL stars A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf played college.

“Every time I went to Oxford, they treated me and my family well,” Williams said Sunday at the news conference on an interview with 247 Sports. “I developed a great relationship with (Ole Miss assistants) Coach (Derrick) Nix and Coach (Kelvin) Bolden. I feel like I can fit into their offense, and I feel like I will have the best chance to succeed at the University of Mississippi. Lane Kiffin is probably one of the best offensive minds in the country. He finds ways to get the best players the ball. If I put in the work, he will find a way to get me the ball and I will be the next great receiver to come out of Oxford.

“Ole Miss fans can expect a hard worker. I like to have fun on the field and after a touchdown, I’m going to celebrate, but not too much because we don’t want to get any flags. They are going to get a fun guy, a guy who will come to work every day and try to be the best player I can be.”

Espy, another great receiver in the long line of outstanding ones in Ole Miss history, believes Williams has huge potential at the next level.

Photo by Jared Thomas

“Ayden has a bright future and I feel like he can make an immediate impact (at Ole Miss),” said Espy, who owns Espy Performance in Madison and who has clients like Mississippians in the NFL (Cam Akers, Dontario Drummond, and DJ Montgomery) and current college players from Mississippi (Will Rogers, Jonathan Mingo, and Ty Keyes) just to mention a few. “By the time he steps onto campus, he is Day 1 ready. Ayden is a great kid on and off the field. He’s infectious, the type of kid you want in your locker room. Ayden is a leader by example. When it comes to his play on the field, it’s unmatched. He has the size, speed, ball skills, straight up dog. Ayden plays like a (Los Angeles Rams All-Pro cornerback) Jalen Ramsey but from the wide receiver position, that type of mentality. Ayden impacts the game on both sides of the ball. He can also line up and dominate at corner and safety. If you watch his game, there’s not one element you can’t do. Ayden will catch a screen and take the distance. He’ll run your short and intermediate routes and be effective. Ayden can pop the top off and go the distance. And you can line him up on the goal line, throw it up and he’ll come down with it.”

But first, comes Williams’ senior season at Ridgeland. The Titans’ season opener is Friday against Northwest Rankin at home.

Williams gets to play one more season with his longtime friend and Ridgeland senior wide receiver Jabraxton Boone, who has Division I offers from Alcorn State, Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Middle Tennessee State.

“Ayden and I have been close since the seventh grade,” Boone said. “We have been brothers out of football as well and we bond well on the field. We teach each other things on the field because you know iron sharpens iron. Ayden is a very good player and a nice brother. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else.”