COVINGTON, Ga. — Rodney Williams isn’t unlike a lot of young 20-somethings, not too far removed from high school, full of ambition, wide-eyed at the amount of opportunity the world has to offer, yet still navigating exactly how to execute his greatest passions.
In a broad sense, those passions revolve around football. Middle school and high school football — getting those young athletes set to and ready for their college recruiting journey.
In a more specific sense, those passions are all about prep football in the “Far East” corner of the Atlanta metro area — a spot on the map that includes Newton and Rockdale counties, among others like DeKalb and parts of Gwinnett.
It’s an area that, despite some fairly big talents and recognizable college football names, Williams feels doesn’t get its just due.
“It’s hard to believe that with names like Eric Stokes, (Jeremiah) Holloman, (Jaquan) Henderson and others, this area is still so slept on,” Williams said. “It’s kinda crazy, but that’s really the reason why I do what I do.”
What he does for up-and-coming football talent came into full fruition Sunday afternoon when he hosted the first Elite Raw Talent Showcase and Camp at Newton High School.
“Thirty to 35” kids came out to the inaugural one, and Williams realizes that some may see that as a modest number. But given that Adidas’ FBU camp and the acclaimed USA Regionals was happening on the same day, the former Rockdale High football player called it an encouraging sign.
“Really, with the fact that we were competing with others, I was pretty pleased,” Williams said. “The biggest thing was this camp is that I wanted the athletes out here to be able to have a chance to learn, and not just come show what they can do like in some other camps.”
That’s why he called upon a wide swath of coaches from across the area. Coaches like Eastside wide receivers coach Frankie Iverson or defensive backs coach Erik McMillan, a former safety for the New York Jets.
He saw coaches like Newton’s Josh Skelton and Salem’s newly minted offensive coordinator Michael Johnson — coaches from most of the schools in the East Metro Atlanta area come together to help players get better and become more college football ready, regardless of what high schools they’re at or will go to.
For that reason, Williams said he didn’t want to waste the coaches’ time. Instead, he utilized their expertise to help give the athletes in attendance more than just a few highlight reels to display on Instagram and Twitter.
“We wanted it to be a real learning experience,” he said. “That’s why we put them in positional drills. They spent 30 minutes with coaches from around the area who know their craft. So instead of just coming out and doing 1-on-1s, we did position work where coaches were hands-on teaching. And then after that, we’d put it into 1-on-1s, going against each other and competing. That way they could actually use what they were learning.”
It was great timing, considering most schools across the area will enter into their two week spring football period Monday. Newton and Salem are actually slated to play a spring game on Friday May 10 to culminate the spring session right before 7-on-7s and summer work begins.
The camp is part of the selection process for Williams’ Elite All-American game that gets played after the regular season ends in December. So while it was, in essence, a learning camp, it was still part showcase, but also an opportunity for athletes to get some of their 40-yard dash times and other football measurable into the hands of college coaches across the nation.
The fact that Elite Raw Talent has recently been granted NCAA certification makes that easier.
“What that means is that we have a database that keeps track of the information that isn’t made public like official 40 times, shuttle times, GPAs, test scores, and other stuff that doesn’t get put out publicly unless the kids do it themselves,” he said. “College coaches from all over the country can subscribe to our database service to get that non-public information.
“Being NCAA certified translates to helping the camp grow because now kids know that they’re coming to a camp that the NCAA trusts and that college coaches trust.”
Another boon for Williams and Elite Raw is the partnership he struck up with Phenom Elite which just became the official apparel company for the Arena Football League. That connection provides Elite Raw with the kind of credibility one would see from the Rivals and Adidas partnership or the Army All-American Bowl and Under Armour.
“That’s kind of the level where we want to be,” Williams said. “We’re working on grants and other things to reach that goal of being on that Rivals or Under Armour level. That’s the direction we’re headed. You don’t see too many Rivals camps out this way.”
Which brings us to the point of Williams’ biggest passion. As Elite Raw Talent grows — over the next couple of years he plans to launch showcase camps all across the Southeast — Williams said he wants the center of it all to remain right where it all began.
“Using the platform we already have, I want to make sure we include Rockdale and Newton as the hub of it all,” he said. “When we get big, Rockdale and Newton’s also gonna get big. It’s like we’ll use one platform to help one another.”
Call it Williams’ way of trying to give back and show appreciation for the way the Far East has come through for him.
“It’s really just about the commitment to the people who helped bring me up,” he said. “Coming out of Rockdale it was coach Skelt, and coach Nick, coach (Troy) Hoff, Iverson and Laws. They were the ones who brought me up when I first got started, and it’s only right to give back to them.”
The recent turn of events for Elite Raw Talent allowed Williams to reverse course a bit. A few months back he was set to join the Albany State coaching staff for recruiting. But he said one of the things that made him change his mind was his affinity with the local area’s talent.
“So many of the kids from the Rockdale and Newton area, when I made that announcement that I was going to Albany State, they were proud but they were hurt,” he said. “I had people telling me that we’d done so much to help this community and that this community still needs us. That touched my heart a little different.
“I genuinely, really care for the kids. I don’t think a lot of people see that. My biggest thing is trying to help these young men get to that next level.”
That’s why relationships are so important to him. In fact, he feels it’ll be the lifeblood of Elite Raw Talent’s growth.
“When you start in the eighth grade and you’re keeping in touch with top players from Dekalb, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale, kids like Justin Benton who’s probably gonna be a 4 or 5-star guy one day, when kids like that you’ve built relationships are in my camp, it can help get others of that caliber on the boat,” he said.
But beyond the obvious talents, Williams said he also likes keeping an eye out for the ones who may not be on a lot of recruiting radars. He likes identifying them and providing a means for them to put themselves on the map.
Of the athletes who came to Newton Sunday from as far as Baldwin, Putnam and Hart counties, Williams said a pair of Newton County athletes caught his eye as ones that college recruiters ought not pass up.
“Elijah Zollicoffer, man, he was maybe the best lineman out there,” Williams said of the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Newton freshman. “He was most definitely the biggest. It’s crazy for him to be the size he his for the age he is. He was going against seniors and dominating. He’s gonna be special.
“Another kid who’s gonna show up on people’s radars, I think, is Keaton Hambright. He had a good showing yesterday. He’s one that nobody knows about yet, but coach Skelton and coach (Camiel Grant) said he’s worked real hard in the weight room. He ran the ball and ran routes real good.”
The more such athletes start to get discovered through Elite Raw Talent’s showcase camps, the more Williams will feel like his mission is accomplished and his life’s passion is being executed.
“We just want to keep making the right connections with coaches and players around here and let people know that this area of Georgia shouldn’t be slept on,” he said.