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Caleb Williams has gone from backup quarterback to No. 1 pick in the NFL draft

The Chicago Bears took Williams with the top pick in the draft.
/ Source: TODAY

Caleb Williams, as expected, was the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft, which began April 25 in Detroit.

Williams is headed to play for the Chicago Bears.

For Williams, a quarterback who played for the University of Southern California, this is the culmination of years of hard work. He says he knew early on that he could be the top pick.

“When I was 12,” he told TODAY’s Kaylee Hartung in an interview that aired April 25. “It’s actually becoming a reality being here, being at the draft, possibly being the No. 1 pick. Crazy.”

When anticipating his name being called as the top pick, he said he planned to keep his emotions in check.

NCAA Footall 2023: Utah 34:32 USC
Caleb Williams runs for a touchdown against the University of Utah on Oct. 21, 2023, in Los Angeles.Ringo Chiu via AP file

“I’m (going to) be excited, but all the emotions on the field that you see, I probably won’t have those,” he said.

He also knows the significance of this next chapter in his career.

“It’s a big moment,” he said. “It’s a long time coming, for an even longer time to come, so I’m ready. I’m ready for the moment.”

As for how he plans to sleep the night before the draft, Williams said: “Like a baby.”

The Bears traded away their young starter, Justin Fields, after the season, ostensibly setting the stage to select Williams to lead the franchise and become the next superstar in the NFL. So, just who is he?

He’s a Heisman Trophy winner

Williams, who is from Washington, D.C., and attended Gonzaga College High School, won the Heisman Trophy in 2022. He was the seventh player from USC to win the coveted award, given annually to the most outstanding player in college football.

That season, he threw for 4,537 yards and had 42 touchdown passes. He also ran for another 382 yards and had 10 rushing touchdowns, while leading the Trojans to an 11-3 record.

Caleb Williams with USC.
Caleb Williams after a game against the UCLA Bruins at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 11, 2023.Ric Tapia / Getty Images

His 2023 campaign did not feature the same gaudy numbers, but he still excelled, throwing for 3,633 yards and 30 touchdowns, leading the team's high-octane offense. He also ran for 11 scores.

His college career didn’t start at USC

While Williams grew into a bona fide superstar at USC, his on-campus career actually began at the University of Oklahoma in 2021 before he transferred, following Sooners coach Lincoln Riley when he accepted the same position at USC.

Williams earned freshman all-American honors while playing in 11 games at Oklahoma, starting the final seven contests when he replaced Spencer Rattler, who, coincidentally, is also eligible for this year’s draft.

Texas Tech v Oklahoma
Caleb Williams rolls out for a touchdown pass against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Oct. 30, 2021, in Norman, Oklahoma.Brian Bahr / Getty Images

He's excited to play for the Bears

“Chicago, if that’s the place for me tomorrow, I can’t wait,” he told the assembled media in Detroit on April 24, according to NBC Sports Chicago. "All I’ve heard is great things about you all. I’m ready to go.”

For Williams, he's just excited to once again play football.

“I’m ready. I want to get back to a football team,” he said. “I haven’t been on a football team since Nov. 18. That’s probably the toughest part for me and something I really want to get back to. Get in the locker room, be around the guys, be involved every single day and letting it rip.”

He started a foundation to 'shine a spotlight on mental health'

Beyond the gridiron, Williams founded the Caleb Cares Foundation.

“It’s always been important to me to inspire kids. I created Caleb Cares to empower kids, shine a spotlight on mental health, and eliminate bullying,” he writes on the organization’s website.