Behind the Scenes at Heisman Weekend with Caleb Williams, the Face of the New College Football

The day before he wins the Heisman Trophy, Caleb Williams rolls out of bed at 10 a.m. There is a loud knock at his hotel room door, 40 floors above Time Square. Nine people are here to watch him change.

“Welcome,” he says. He rubs his eyes and gestures everyone inside. 

Carl Williams, the USC quarterback’s father, leads the delegation. Behind him are two agents, the Trojans’ sports information director, a photographer, a videographer, a public-relations rep from Hugo Boss, a tailor from Hugo Boss, and a reporter. 

Caleb is tired. He flew from Los Angeles to New York last night, a taxing enough trip even on a private jet. But he perks up when he sees what’s in the human-sized box that the Boss people have brought with them: a selection of suits, shirts, coats, and ties for the New York weekend ahead. It’s a VIP selection freshly off a plane from Germany, the Boss rep says. Last week, Williams got fitted at the Gucci store on Rodeo Drive for the suit he’ll wear to the Heisman ceremony. That leaves bookend events on Friday and Sunday — one casual, one black-tie. He asks USC’s PR person, Katie Ryan, about the dress code for one of the events. “The other candidates might be more casual, but you always like to be the best dressed in the room,” she tells him. He settles on a textured, all-gray suit with patching on the back that looks like armor. 

Williams’ process for getting dressed, it turns out, is no less deliberate than figuring out how he might attack defense playing cover-two with a QB spy underneath. “Something like this,” he says, pointing to that armored gray suit, “I’ve never worn something like it, and neither has anybody else.” Especially not at a football awards dinner.

As he’s transitioned from a five-star recruit to one of the best players in college football the last two years, first at Oklahoma and now USC, Williams has invested a lot of thought (and sometimes money) into his game-day looks. “It’s for sure a ‘look good, feel good, play good’ thing,” he says, citing Deion Sanders’ famous maxim. “It’s your thing coming there. Dress how you want. We’ve got some guys that come in there with some USC stuff. We have some guys that come in dressed up like me.”

Wrapped in whatever Williams is wearing on any given day is a rare quarterback. In the first extended action of his career, he came off the bench for Oklahoma and led an 18-point comeback to beat Texas in 2021’s Red River Shootout. He was great but uneven as a true freshman, then went supernova after going west. He dazzled this fall to the tune of 4,075 passing yards and a 37-to-4 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, with 10 more touchdowns and some brilliant highlights as a runner. 

Williams stands out for his ability to operate in USC’s offensive structure—but also, crucially, for the way he can freelance and conjure a lot out of broken plays. His expressiveness does not end when he puts his street clothes in his locker and straps on a helmet and shoulder pads. In fact, it is most evident when a play breaks down, a lesson Notre Dame learned the hard way a few weeks ago. “We call it Baller Mode,” he says, “and it’s always active in between the white lines. When things go downhill in a play, go make a play.” 

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