Marcus Williams, a former football and basketball standout at Hopkins High before starring in football at North Dakota State, is starting to make a name for himself as an NFL cornerback. Though he went undrafted in 2014, he latched on with the Jets and last season had six interceptions. Williams is spending time in the Twin Cities this offseason hosting a pair of camps — a leadership camp he held Saturday in Minneapolis and a defensive backs camp July 8-9 in Hopkins. Williams recently chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q Going from an undrafted free agent to an established role in the NFL is no small accomplishment. How much pride do you take in the route you had to take to get here?
A I take a ton of pride in it, just from the fact that I feel like I’ve been overlooked my whole career. There’s a story you can tell [younger] guys who maybe aren’t getting looks: No matter what happens, if you continue to work hard and have faith, you can make it wherever you want to go.
Q How far and how hard did it feel like you had to climb when you entered the league undrafted?
A It takes a while because when I first got into camp [originally with Houston before landing with the Jets], there were a ton of cornerbacks. If you’re lucky in practice, you’ll get six plays a day. A lot of the reps are going to the older guys or the first-round draft picks. But what I did on every single play that was going on is I took a mental rep, to be able to watch and learn. That way when it was my turn, I made every single one of my plays count.
Q When you arrived at North Dakota State, that program had already had its fair share of success. But you were there for the beginning of what has really become an FCS dynasty. What was that process like, and how do you view it now?
A I loved NDSU and the great fanbase. It started off with [former Bison head coach Craig Bohl] and the program he built. There were players who had done it before, and we just had to follow their lead and take it to a higher place. A lot of the guys were in the same situation I was in, maybe overlooked by their hometown schools like Minnesota or Iowa. We always played with a chip on our shoulder, and we never forgot where we came from. We knew we could do something special.
Q When you were getting recruited, what was the knock — did schools say you were too small, something else?
A Definitely heard too small plenty of times [Williams is now listed at 5-11 and 196 pounds]. I heard I wasn’t fast enough. The main thing I heard was that I didn’t go against good enough competition.
Q Is it enjoyable for you to be able to come back and do these camps?
A It’s definitely great. The leadership camp is for kids to come out and learn from players that if they keep working hard, they can do whatever they want to do — as well as teach them about leadership roles.
Q Looking back on it, how hard was it for you to give up basketball?
A That was one of the toughest decisions I ever made. But it just came down to a decision about where I thought my career would take me.