Marquise Williams Smiling with Commanders’ Family on his way through Training Camp
By Cole Thompson, San Antonio Commanders Team Reporter
SAN ANTONIO– Marquise Williams straps on his helmet and looks down at his wrist before the start of every practice. Tattooed on both sides are the names Lisa and Bernard along with the words family and first to create a band that can’t be broken.
It was designed that way to represent more than just a memory. It’s a reminder of why he laces his cleats every morning and goes to practice in the Texas sun. Williams plays for his family rather than himself.
“That’s what I think of when I’m having a bad day or a rough practice,” Williams said. “I’m thinking of those two wonderful people. They’ve been through so much to get me to where I am today. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be getting another second chance at playing football.”
It’s hard to imagine Williams ever having a rough day. His smile would tell a different story no matter the circumstances. It’s infectious as he recounts memories of his glory days at North Carolina and his time during the National Football League.
Everyday Williams tries to smile for as long as possible and not linger on the past. He can’t change what has already happened so why bother thinking of the negatives. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, Williams decides to live in the moment. He now has plenty to smile about as he battles in training camp for a chance to be the starting quarterback for the San Antonio Commanders.
Through the first couple of practices, things have been smooth for the six-foot-two quarterback. The offensive scheme ran by Commanders offensive coordinator, Max Troxel is similar to what Williams ran back in Chapel Hill.
“Coach [Larry] Fedora ran more concepts in his offense,” Williams said. “You know, coffee and congo and those different types of things. We were a spread tempo offense. We were going to gash you or put some points on your head while having some fun.”
Williams was recruited by legendary coach Butch Davis, but was committed to the Tar Heels community after Davis was let go in 2011 due to academic misconduct. He could have transferred to run a pro style offense but elected to stay due to his love for the city. The city was behind the young gunslinger, no matter the outcome of the game. Williams felt at home there, a home he needed after moving from Shelby, N.C., at the age of 13 to play for Mallard Creek High School, a prominent program in the state.
Williams thrived in the Carolina Blue uniform as a three-year starter. Throwing for 7,965 yards, 65 touchdowns and a career rating of 141.9, Williams believed he could play at the next level. The success came from running the run pass option offense in the ACC.
His decision was simple; if the safety was high in coverage, they’d run it. If the strong safety creeped into to box, Williams would look for his go-to target, Ryan Switzer up the seam. The play ran like clockwork and Williams was becoming a star in the making. A five-time ACC Player of the Week, the Tar Heel was expected to be making plays on Sunday as the next career move.
But inside, Williams held a secret he hoped would correct itself over time.
During his sophomore year, Williams took a snap against the Pittsburgh Panthers. The young quarterback called a screen play, to keep the drive alive, throwing a dart to his tight end, Eric Ebron. As Williams released the ball, former Panthers defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a four-time NFL All-Pro selection, slammed him into the ground.
The good news; Williams completed the pass. The bad news; he was never the same.
“I needed to take medication everyday just to play through the pain,” Williams said. “I didn’t think about it until I got to my senior season. I knew I needed to [to have a big seasons] because this was my last year and scouts were going to be concerned when they asked me to get a MRI before the combine.”
Following his final game with North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Williams underwent hip surgery. Expected to be in Mobile, Ala., as a headline quarterback at the Senior Bowl, Williams’ surgery forced him to bed rest. When March rolled around, he missed the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Ind. The once highly touted pocket passer now would have one chance to run, throw, pass and talk to scouts at the UNC Pro Day before April’s draft.
At the start of his senior season, the quarterback destined to be on a NFL roster was expected to go in the third round. A fifth round selection would have been a steal for someone with his intangibles. When the final pick was called in the 2016 NFL Draft, Williams was on the outside looking in.
“I’m not going to lie, it was shocking in my eyes,” Williams said. “The things I did at UNC, I put up some crazy stats. I’m not a guy to brag, never have been but I did put up crazy stats man. It was unbelievable. I did everything right, played against the number one defense in the ACC [Clemson] and almost came back. It hurt.”
Nearing the end of the draft, Williams was hoping his name wouldn’t be called. He was smiling at the thought of it, knowing he could control the next step. With options as an undrafted free agent, he could write his own story and carve his own path to the NFL. While the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings offered him a contract, Williams couldn’t turn down the opportunity to wear the green and yellow colors in Lambeau Field.
After talking it over and weighing his options, Williams signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers. He’d be leaving North Carolina and traveling the 933 miles up north to Wisconsin. Working with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Williams hoped to improve on his short throws to match his missile deep passes. It was a problem multiple scouts saw in his overall game that needed to be fixed at the professional level. For five months, Williams would bond with Rodgers more than even he could imagine.
Williams still can’t listen to those who bad mouth the Packers superstar for his ‘arrogant attitude’, he’s never seen that side of Rodgers in person. To him, Rodgers is humble, sincere and a master of the craft.
For hours the pair would watch film after practice late into the evening. They’d lose track of time watching the coverages, breaking down play and working on signals and audibles. Arriving late to events in his social life, it didn’t matter to the young quarterback. Williams wanted to be a student and Rodgers was willing to be the teacher. He wanted to be uncomfortable in camp and Rodgers provided opportunities to make that happen.
As practice ended each day, Rodgers gave Williams a piece of advice to remember every night he closed his eyes.
“He kept telling me that one day I would be a professional quarterback,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter what anybody says about you, you’re going to have a bright future.”
By the end of the Packers preseason, Williams would go 6-of-17 for 55 yards before injuring his ankle before the preseason finale. It wasn’t enough to keep him around.
On the final day Packers’ cuts, Williams was released from the roster. He was not asked to be a member of the team’s practice squad, making him a free agent and up for grabs.
But the phone didn’t ring, the offers didn’t come and it was back to square one.
He kept smiling though and didn’t give up, never losing sight of the end goal. Heading up to Canada, Williams signed a deal with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for their preseason. It was a new league and new opportunity for him to succeed, which he did.
He sat his first year, learning the new rules set by the CFL and building a connection with the offensive players. In his second season, Williams thrived in the preseason, throwing for three touchdowns and ending the preseason with a passer rating of 98 percent.
But he wasn’t happy. For the first time in his football career, the winning smile had faded away. He wasn’t starting in Canada but rather holding the clipboard. He wanted one more chance to prove he could make it and he knew it wasn’t coming in Saskatchewan.
When The Alliance formed, Williams came running. Having no idea if the league would even take a 26-year-old quarterback, he arrived in San Antonio for QB Camp, prepared and ready to get drafted onto a team. Whether it be the first pick or Mr.Irrelevant, Williams knew he’d be selected in the “Protect or Pick” QB Draft.
Allocated to the Atlanta Legends, Williams wouldn’t stay for long. With the final pick of the second round, Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston used his selection to bring Williams onto the roster.
“Mr. Johnston and coach [Mike] Riley took a chance on me and for that, I’ll be forever grateful,” Williams said. “I’m here now and excited for this opportunity. I’ll make the most of it.”
Williams is ready for action. While the pads aren’t on just yet, he’s ready to take the ups and downs that will come throughout training camp. No matter the day however, it’s easy to point out Williams; he’s the one always smiling.
“People ask me why I’m always smiling and it’s easy to answer; I play my best ball when I’m excited and smiling,” Williams said. “When I’m down, I know I’m not going to play my best. I just keep smiling and I know I’ll play better.”
Williams is a family man and keeps close with them still. He’s a team player first and his family understands that.
His fiance, Summer, was supposed to be saying her ‘I do’s’ in March. That will likely be pushed back until the end of the season and she supports that.
Williams is ready for a second chance with the Commanders. He’ll have some help to get him through training camp. Keeping in contact with Rodgers, the pair talk about the league and how he hopes Marquise’s season ends better than Green Bay’s.
Everyday, he remembers Aaron’s advice and takes it to heart. Williams is a professional quarterback, for The Alliance, for the Commanders and for his life. He’s the quarterback of wherever his journey will take him next.
Throughout it all, Williams has been humbled by the love and support of his family and teammates. Looking at every opportunity as a lesson, he still is grateful for the chance to wear the “G” on the side of his helmet and his brief time in the NFL. It gave him the confidence to keep striving to a dream a reality. He hopes NFL teams understand that when they look at his tape a second time.
“I put the team first always,” Williams said. “It’s been that way since I was in college. I’m always pushing my guys to be the best and they’ll push me to be the best. I’m going to give it 110 percent everyday. No matter what though, I’m coming out happy.”
Everyday Williams will have a second chance to join the NFL. A good day at practice could get him closer to new contract. A bad day could have him looking to life after football. For now, he’s happy to have a home again in San Antonio.
As he looks down at his wrist, tightens his laces and straps on his red and maroon helmet, Williams is smiling.
He’s always just smiling.