He remains a “quarterback” but not under center. Instead, he’s a “quarterback of the defense” as a safety. The 6-foot-3 and 175-pound Williams had 61 tackles and two interceptions as a junior. He was a unanimous Class 4 first-team, all-state selection by Missouri Media and Missouri Football Coaches Association.
“I love playing defense,” Williams said. “I feel like a quarterback of the defense.”
Coach Bob Bunton said, “He’s like a coach on the field. He’s very intelligent. He knows the game.”
Certainly, Williams is well regarded. Considered a four-star recruit by all major college scouting services, Williams has his pick of schools where he might play. Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU and Nebraska are the schools with whom he keeps in closest contact. He visited Alabama at the end of June. Oklahoma has recruited him and can give him a teammate he knows well – Michael Thompson, who graduated from Parkway North in June.
Missouri has signed many Parkway North players, and Williams said he has good relationships with the coaching staffs at Nebraska and LSU. So it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll end up.
“He’s everything you want in an athlete,” Bunton said. “I really believe you’ll see Jalani playing on Sundays in the future.”
For now, Williams does not appear to be in a hurry to make a decision.
“I had 32 offers,” he said of the schools recruiting him. “It gets overwhelming at times. It’s mind-blowing to be in this position.” He said he might announce his decision at the school’s Homecoming pep rally on Oct. 12. “I’ll just put on the hat of the school I choose at the rally,” he said.
He’ll enroll in that school for the January term after graduating early this December. He plans to study either sports medicine or business. But first, there is this season to play. His goal is to stay healthy and lead the team to a winning season.
“We want to make sure a season like last year doesn’t happen again,” Williams said. The Vikings finished the regular season 5-6 and tied for last place in the Suburban XII Conference South Division. “We’ll go game by game and try to win every game.”
Williams had surgery, last Jan. 31, on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum. He underwent physical therapy twice a week every week after the surgery. He was cleared for all activity three weeks ago. Unable to pinpoint exactly when the injury happened, he knew something was up in the second game last season. But that’s all behind him now.
“I can’t wait to play again,” Williams said.
Ironically, his Viking varsity career began with an injury when quarterback Luke Hertzler was injured in the third game of the season. Hertzler now plays football at Missouri S&T.
“We were winning and I came in and sparked the team with my two big runs in that game,” Williams recalled. “I played quarterback the rest of the season on offense.”Williams completed 49 of 103 passes for 696 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 114 yards on 33 carries.
“I give myself about a B as a quarterback,” he said. “I helped lead us to a 7-4 season.”
Bunton was impressed with how Williams handled everything.
“He was great,” Bunton said. “He got thrown into the fire. Athletically, we were able to run the ball more with him than with other quarterbacks. He took command.”
As a sophomore, Williams went back to safety. He can use all his athletic ability there, including his speed, which he also relies on when competing in track for the Vikings. He won at state as a sophomore in the 110 hurdles. He finished in 14.26 seconds for the fastest 110-hurdle time in the state in 2017.
Last season was a breakthrough year for him in football. He recorded 61 tackles and picked off two passes. To prepare for competition, he watches game films.
“It’s like watching TV for me. I love it,” Williams said. “You’re making a cheat sheet for the game. You know what’s going on because you’ve watched the film. You narrow down the options and know what [the opposing team] might do.”
It’s not surprising that Williams will be a team captain again this fall.
“He’s a quiet leader,” Bunton said. “I call him ‘the quiet assassin.’ He may be one of the most soft-spoken kids in our school. He’s a great student. He’s everything you’d want in a kid to coach.
“The other kids respect him. He says very little, but he’s very intense and works very hard.”