NDSU CB Williams a star in the makingFARGO — The quarterback at St. Cloud State in the mid-1980s had plenty to worry about when he played North Dakota State. For starters, Jeff Williams had to contend with cornerback Tyrone Braxton, who went on to a 13-year NFL career with the Denver Broncos.
By: Jeff Kolpack, Forum Communications Co.
FARGO — The quarterback at St. Cloud State in the mid-1980s had plenty to worry about when he played North Dakota State. For starters, Jeff Williams had to contend with cornerback Tyrone Braxton, who went on to a 13-year NFL career with the Denver Broncos.
“I just thought back then, this is a man playing amongst boys here,” Williams said. “He seemed like a step faster and understood the game better than anybody else on the field. He was just amazing to me.”
Two decades later, Williams is still a part of Bison football games, only this time as a parent. His son is cornerback Marcus Williams and like Braxton looks like a man playing amongst boys at times.
“I think it’s kind of early to compare Marcus to that,” Jeff said. “I can see where maybe he can develop into that type of player.”
Marcus Williams is a Bison sophomore who has already developed into one of the best cornerbacks in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It promises to be a busy athletic season for the family — Brianna Williams, Marcus’ younger sister, is a freshman basketball player for the University of North Dakota.
“I guess North Dakota is our new home now,” Marcus said.
Rivalry put aside when it comes to family support
Hopkins High School in the Twin Cities, a Williams and a state basketball championship are close friends. Marcus was part of an undefeated 31-0 state titlist that was one of the country’s best prep teams.
Several players went on to Division I basketball programs, with the exception of Marcus. A recruiting visit by Bison head coach Craig Bohl sold him on giving football a shot. He redshirted in 2009 to concentrate on academics, something that was a priority in the eyes of his father.
“I’m very proud of the way he’s developed as a young man first of all,” Jeff said. “Hitting the books and making sure he does what he needs to do in the classroom — that impresses me as a father.”
Brianna got a state title ring of her own when the Royals won the Class 4A title last season. She overcame a serious knee injury as a sophomore, a chronic problem she said took until her senior year before it felt fully healed.
Last Saturday, she was at the Fargodome to watch Marcus and the Bison defeat Northern Iowa, a game that left NDSU the only unbeaten team in the Missouri Valley and a No. 1 ranking in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
“I go as often as I can to support him,” she said.
And likewise, Marcus said, on the prospect of a few trips to Grand Forks. It’s early, but it appears Brianna will play as a true freshman for the Sioux.
And certainly, the fact NDSU and UND are rival schools is not lost on the family.
“When she first committed to UND, I was like, I know I’m going to hear about this,” Marcus said. “It’s a good deal for her and I’m excited for her. Even though it’s a rival school, I’m excited for her to do well.”
Asked who the better basketball player is and Brianna figures it’s about even. Marcus referenced their childhood days.
“I tried to teach her everything I knew about basketball, but I never let her beat me,” he said. “There were some good games, but I always had to win at the end.”
Switching to defense pays off big
It didn’t take long for Marcus to ascend the Bison depth chart. He was primarily a receiver in high school, but Bohl figured defense would be best when he talked to a basketball coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, who told Bohl he would sign Williams if he had a better outside shot.
The coach told Bohl that Williams has the ability to guard anybody at a high-major level. So if he could do that, then why not put him in a spot to guard FCS receivers?
Marcus began his first practice a year ago as the No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart. It wasn’t long before he was starting.
Defensive backs coach Chris Klieman said Marcus’ attention to detail and the constant want to get better has been impressive.
“He’s always had the athletic ability but the concern was it came so easy to him that he didn’t have to work as hard as the people around him,” Jeff said. “But over the last year, he’s really been working hard to keep that edge.”
Williams leads the Missouri Valley in passes defended with 12 and interceptions with four in eight games — and that includes the last few games when teams have thrown away from him. NDSU inserted him as a deep man on the kickoff return team and he responded with a 90-yard return for a touchdown against Missouri State.
His three returns are not enough to qualify him in statistical leaders.
“Every time I see him, he seems more and more mature,” Jeff said. “He’s calmed down.”
Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.