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Mr. Williams Goes to South Bend, Or Does He?

Now, on to the quandary presented by Monroe (Ga.) George Walton Academy running back Stanley Williams, a high school junior, whose story poses the age-old question, Just how many official non-visits is a recruit allowed to take?

For the uninformed, an official non-visit is exactly like an official visit with the minor exception that it never actually takes place. Recruits, as you may already know, are permitted to take five official visits (presumably to five different schools) during their recruitment. During an official visit, the school picks up all travel and hosting expenses while a recruit spends a weekend at that university.

But an official non-visit? That’s entirely different. Official non-visits involve none of the inconveniences of connecting flights, weather delays, and socially awkward situations when you are taken out to the type of restaurant where they place two or even three forks at your position (Who needs three forks?). Official non-visits will never result in an embarrassing report that perhaps an underage student was over-served one Friday evening and as a result was not at his four- to five-star best on Saturday morning (the always popular, “I overslept” excuse may be invoked here). Official non-visits likely provide a better idea – certainly no worse of one — of what actual day-to-day life as a student-athlete at that institution would be like than official visits do.

Which returns us to young Mr. Williams, who was scheduled to take an official visit to the University of Notre Dame last weekend. Will Biggers, a writer for BlueandGold.com, a Notre Dame fan website, contacted Williams on Sunday to inquire how the visit went. According to Mr. Biggers, the five-foot-nine, 189-pound running back told him, “The visit went great. It was great to experience something new and different, and we had a great time at the (men’s basketball) game. I had been looking forward to it for awhile, and it was great to just get out there and see a new place. I plan on getting up there a couple more times in the future.”

A fairly innocuous and, it should be added, generic, quote. Mr. Williams could be talking about any university anywhere. Then, however, Biggers asked the four-star recruit about his conversation with Notre Dame tight ends coach Scott Booker, who recruits his area.

“We had a great talk,” said Willliams, who rushed for 1,958 yards and 24 touchdowns last autumn, his junior season. “They said I could be expecting an offer down the road and that I’d have the chance to come play for them and go to their school. It’s nice to know that I’ll have an offer on the way, so I’m just going to wait for that patiently. Coach Booker said that he would be coming back down to Georgia to see me again, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Two things must be said here. One, Stanley Williams did not visit the University of Notre Dame last weekend. Two, this has not been a good week for the intersection of truth and Notre Dame football.

Stanley Williams was home in Georgia last weekend. He played in a basketball game, as opposed to attending one. When asked about the discrepancy between the quotes and his actual whereabouts, Williams said, “It was just a big misunderstanding. I just don’t want people to think I have a bad reputation of lying or saying where I am going and things like that.”

Mr. Biggers and BlueandGold.com stand by the initial quotes. We put one clause above in italics because that one lends itself not to a misunderstanding but rather –what’s the word that has popped up so often in the past week in reference to the Manti Te’o fauxmance? – an “embellishment” of a rather innocent lie. By specifically naming Scott Booker, Williams crossed the line between misunderstanding and duplicity.

None of which is to say that Stanley Williams is any less of a young man than he has been portrayed to be before this episode. It was at the very least intriguing to read both the fathers of Manti Te’o and Stanley Williams defend their sons in print on Wednesday in the matter of their offspring’s respective character and the truth.

“People can speculate about what they think he is,” Brian Te’o told Katie Couric in an interview that will air tomorrow. I’ve known him 21 years of his life. And he’s not a liar. He’s a kid.”

“If we were to go someplace, we would do it right,” Williams’ father, Stanley, Sr., told ESPN.com. “We certainly wouldn’t tell a lie about nothing.”

Pardon us for donning our Deadspin.com hats and assigning motive to fact, but if we had to guess, we’d posit that Stanley Williams is a neophyte in terms of dealing with the media. And he is still at a point, early in his career, of telling grown men, strangers in fact (i.e., recruiting writers who phone him) what he thinks that they want to hear. But, as this tale attests, an innocent fib can metastasize into a referendum on one’s character.

Suddenly, young Mr. Williams is known nationally not for being one of the nation’s top running backs approaching his senior year in high school, but for the phantom recruiting visit he took to South Bend. Just as Manti Te’o is now far better-known for his fake girlfriend than he will ever be for being the second-leading tackler in the history of Notre Dame football.

The lesson for recruits is this: If you don’t wish to speak to recruiting writers –and you are under no obligation to do so – politely and firmly tell them so. If you do not mind or even like speaking to them, remember that when you are speaking to them, you are speaking to every one of their potential readers. Tell the truth. Or just say, “I cannot answer that question now.”

But do not fib. There are no innocent lies on the internet. Ask Lennay Kekua.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!