From FCS, Williams trying to make Texans

From FCS, Williams trying to make Texans
June 9, 2014, 8:00 am
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(USA Today Images)

Marcus Williams wasn’t just a big fish in a little pond.

He and the rest of the North Dakota State football team, for the last three college seasons, were whales in a bowl made for carnival gold fish.

The Bison have won the last three Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championships, while amassing a 43-2 record since the beginning of 2011, Williams’ sophomore season. Williams arrived at North Dakota State the year before and started as a freshman, eventually setting a school record with 21 career interceptions and an FCS record of seven interceptions returned for touchdowns. He had at least one pass defended in 41 career games.

He’s a ballhawk.

“I like to attack the ball at its highest point,” Williams said. “That’s how I play. That’s how I’ve always played. That’s how I learned. And that’s how you play corner: when the ball’s in the air, you go get it and you make sure the receiver don’t.”

No matter the competition, Williams’ numbers were impressive but they’re also a thing of the past. He’s no longer a whale busting open the glass bowl of the FCS. Now, he’s a guppy, swimming in the vast waters of the National Football League after being signed by the Texans as an undrafted free agent.  

“I feel like it’s a great accomplishment for guys that don’t get much attention as the D-1A schools but I mean, for me, I’m just trying to play ball,” Williams said last week during OTAs. “Just come out here, compete at a high level and just keep learning. I’m young, I’m a rookie. I’m trying to learn from the older guys who have been here before but I think it’s nice. I’m from a small school and they all respect that. I’m just looking forward to big things now.”

Like all players coming out of college, Williams was hopeful he’d hear his name called and have his phone ring during the draft. But silence won out instead.

He hadn’t had any contact with the Texans during the pre-draft process, so it was a surprise when they called him five minutes after the conclusion of the draft to offer him a contract. But Williams quickly accepted their offer and made his way down to Houston to dive in.

Not getting drafted isn’t the first time Williams has been overlooked. Coming out of Hopkins High School in Minneapolis, Williams didn’t garner much attention either. He had a few Division 1 schools look at him, including Minnesota, but ultimately he was offered just three scholarships: South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State. He chose North Dakota State because of the program’s success and then he arrived and made the Bison even more successful.

It used to bother Williams that no one really seems to know the reputation of the North Dakota State football team. The Bison were so good in 2013-14, they received 17 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, which ranked them as the 29th best team in all of college football, just ahead of Texas Tech, Georgia, Iowa and Ole Miss. Still, Williams and most of his teammates were overlooked in the draft (William Turner was taken in the third round).

That lack of reputation used to bother Williams but he says it no longer does.

“That’s in the past,” he said. “I enjoyed everything I did when I was in college and what North Dakota State brought for me to just become a great player but now I’m looking forward to just being a Texan and learning how to be a pro and learn from older guys from what they see and how they do things and just follow their lead.”

Williams said the biggest adjustment to life in the NFL isn’t the speed of the game – although he admitted it is faster. The biggest adjustment is simply learning a new defensive playbook. He’s been spending plenty of time studying and trying to learn from some of the veterans in front of him. It won’t be easy to make the Texans; there are plenty of capable players likely ahead of him on the depth chart but Williams is trying to catch up as quickly as possible.

The best piece of advice he’s received so far from multiple players and coaches?

“Just focus on what you have to do,” he said. “Don’t worry about what’s going on with everybody else or what everybody else is doing or how somebody else is practicing. Just worry about what you have to do and what you have to do to be a good teammate and what you have to do to make this team.”

Time to sink or swim.