OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High senior football players Jalen Rivers and Chantz Williams will add their names to the icons of Knights' football after a Friday reception naming the two athletes as Under Armour All American football players. Both players will join players from around the nation on January 2 in Orlando, Camping World Stadium for the Under Armour All-American football game.
Among the players previously named to the Under Armour All America teams; the top 100 players in the nation, are NFL stars Julio Jones (U of Alabama, Atlanta Falcons), A.J. Green (Georgia, Cincinnati Bengals), Amari Cooper (Alabama, Dallas Cowboys), Jameis Winston (FSU, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Leonard Fournette (LSU, Jacksonville Jaguars) and Kyle Murray (Oklahoma, Arizona Cardinals).
"When I was at Ponte Vedra High School, they were both freshman for Oakleaf High School (under coach Steve Reynolds) with both starters, but with Jalen missing that game with an injury," said Oakleaf High coach Frank Garis, who had been an assistant coach at Ponte Vedra High School at the time. "Chantz had a different number back then and we all wondered on our staff why they didn't play him more. You could tell then that he was going to be super special, and, by film, that Jalen would also be a great one."
The pair joins Oakleaf High Schools first All American, University of Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, who earned, in 2015, a U.S. Army All-American jersey for his four year career as a Knight.
For both Rivers and Williams, the ceremony highlighted the unique opportunity that both will have as they both have signed letters of commit to continue playing together at the University of Miami. Both plan to finish high school early to enroll at Miami in January.
"Today is a pretty special day to be named to the All-American in front of my friends, but also my best friend," said Williams, who sported an arm cast after breaking his forearm after a two yard plunge during the season."I have nothing but endless love from everybody since my first freshman game."
Rivers, aptly nicknamed "Big Cheez" by a famous sportswriter, came into the fold of sports first as a basketball player with his immense size as an elementary school athlete. Rivers maintained his immense presence on the basketball court for Oakleaf Junior High under coach John Conley and also Oakleaf High School under coach Jason Price. Rivers hit a dramatic outside jumper last year in the district championship to fuel a Knights' title over Fleming Island High School. Rivers also won the schools first shot put state title last year.
"I played basketball first when I was five and four years after that Chantz came to one of my practices and we met," said Rivers, now a mammoth 6'-6" and 360 pounds of moving force on the offensive line of scrimmage as an offensive tackle. "He (Williams) was horrible, but we became friends because he has a funny personality and he made me laugh. I was very shy because I was so big for my age and he kind of brought me around to being less shy."
Williams, not only evolved from a "horrible" basketball player to the school record holder for blocked shots for Oakleaf High School; an astounding 81 last year with 241 in just three years of varsity play, and a late bloomer as an under-the-backboard scorer for coach Jason Price, but also started to see some football in his future. Williams also threw the shot put for the track team, finishing fifth in district 1-4A and missing a top four spot for regions by just 1.25 inches.
"College football was never really on my mind because I thought I had proved to everyone that I could play with the best players in Florida," said Williams, who will enter Miami as a speed pass rush specialist. "Until Florida State University made me an offer as a freshman, I always thought college football for me was a joke."
One aspect of their high school careers that both entirely agree on is that without the other, neither would have gotten to the level that they are presently at.
"Honestly, I would never have gotten to this point without Jalen," said Williams, who cited his Godfather, James Davis, as a big mentor of his life. "Having reps against him in every practice, every day made me work harder than I probably would have if he wasn't smashing me on every play. I got a couple moves on him, but it was fairly even."
Garis' memory of Rivers and Williams best moments of 2019 included a first series interception that Williams had in a win over Columbia Lake City.
"That was his first game back from an injury and it was just 'wow'," said Garis. "He did so much for us all season including carrying the ball at the end of the season."
For Rivers, Garis cited his game-by-game excellence.
"With Jalen, people don't realize how fast and explosive he is because of his size, but when he moves, he moves piles," said Garis. "When we watch film, he is pushing guys 20-25 yards downfield. We have had a pretty good run game (Keshawn King, 2,017 yards last year, 1,500 in 2017, now at Virginia Tech) the past few years and he has been a big part of it."