Make no mistake about it — Marshall Williams was going for the jugular. The 2011 season wasn’t a minute old and the end zone rested 80 yards away, but this play, a touchdown-or-bust bomb, had been years in the making for the Flower Mound quarterback.
“We wanted to start the season off right and prove people wrong with one play,” the senior quarterback recalls. “So we had Chaz Taylor lined up on the outside for a one-on-one post route. The middle was open and I got a little pressure, so I just stepped up and let it go. Chaz ran under it and took it all the way.
“It happened so fast then, but when I think about it now, I’m like, ‘Wow, did that really happen?’”
For the first time in more than two years, Williams wasn’t dreaming. He’d waited that long to return to his natural position, snagging passes at wideout in the meantime while now-graduated Paul Millard rewrote the school record book.
But now Williams’ wildest fantasies — starting as varsity quarterback, passing for a national-best 502 yards in Week 1 and racking up 15 touchdowns through three games — were finally real.
THROWN FOR A LOOP
The grooming process had begun back in seventh grade. Williams’ older brother, Michael, was a starting safety at Flower Mound, so Marshall was on coach Cody Vanderdorf’s radar early on.
Often times, Williams would man the sideline at home games. For road contests, Williams would ride the team bus. And during quarterback meetings, the youngster was there, soaking in the offense that he would one day run.
Following a stellar freshman stint as quarterback of the Jaguars’ JV squad, it appeared that day had arrived. Thing is, neither Williams nor the Flower Mound coaches had factored in junior Paul Millard, who had a tremendous spring after serving as the varsity backup the year before.
“We thought Marshall would be the next one because we had known for some time that he was special,” Flower Mound offensive coordinator Bo Wasurick said. “Paul was a surprise. He just stepped up and wouldn’t let go.”
For the next two years, Millard stood as one of the nation’s most productive passers, throwing for 8,057 yards and 82 touchdowns in just 22 games. Millard is now a preferred walk-on with West Virginia’s football team.
All the while, Williams could have sulked or thought about transferring. But since Millard was a good friend of his and breaking up with the sport he loved wasn’t an option, Williams chose the next best thing: wide receiver.
Initially, though, Williams had his doubts about the sudden switch.
“I’m 6-5 and even though I’m not slow, I’m not really the fastest guy out there,” Williams said. “I had played quarterback all my life, so it was a big change.”
“Paul was a little ahead of him, but Marshall was too good to leave on the bench waiting,” Vanderdorf added. “We had to utilize his talent.”
At times, Williams got a chance to feed his quarterback fix, taking second-string snaps in practice and seeing some game action during garbage time. But even though being on the receiving end wasn’t quite like making the throw, Williams made a relatively seamless transition. In two seasons, he recorded 38 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns.
Through it all, Wasurick challenged Williams to prepare as if he was the starting quarterback. They both knew it was just a matter of time before Williams’ apprenticeship at receiver gave way to his dream job as QB 1. And with one season to make up for two lost years, Williams made sure he was ready.
“I always told him, ‘Just be the best,’” his brother Michael said. “Even when he was receiver and wasn’t the star player, one of the things I knew he could do was be the best. And he’s a competitor, so he’s always going to give his all.”
“MY TIME IS NOW”
The season was two weeks away and like most Texans in August, Bo Wasurick was just trying to find relief from the scorching sun.
So with his family in tow, Wasurick drove up to the Flower Mound campus for a game of indoor kickball. As he pulled up, he saw a figure in the distance, surrounded by footballs and seemingly immune to the sweltering conditions.
“I get up there and there’s Marshall out on the turf, sweating his butt off with the passing nets up, working on different throws,” Wasurick recalls. “He does the little things because he wants it so bad. He wants to play football and he wants to be successful.”
There were more reasons for Williams to sweat than just the heat. After a subpar showing in spring practice, even more questions swirled about the post-Millard Jaguars.
How could Williams even come close to Millard’s numbers? What was he going to do with a No. 1 receiver who stood 5-foot-6? Did he even remember how to throw?
Williams wasn’t worried, though. In fact, he was motivated. In a world where people are more and more becoming prisoners of the moment, Williams and his coaches seemed to be the only ones who remembered the talent at their disposal.
“Marshall and these guys were getting a lot of criticism from people saying they can’t be as good as last year,” Wasurick said. “Look, ever since I moved to Texas and saw this kid at 13 years old, I knew he would be a great player — even No. 1 in the nation. But I told him all along, if he didn’t believe he was the guy, he wouldn’t be the guy this year. Marshall accepted that challenge and went at it as a competitor.”
Also in Williams’ corner was the perspective he gained during his time at wide receiver. Along with the mechanics of being a good quarterback, Williams now has a better idea of where to place the ball and what adjustments need to be made on the fly.
“I’m so glad I decided to play receiver and that coach put me there because it’s helped me out a lot,” Williams said.
Makes sense when you consider Williams’ ridiculous start to the 2011 season. The senior has thrown for at least 433 yards and four touchdowns in each of his first three games, although much to Williams’ disappointment, it’s only resulted in one win.
“Marshall impresses me every time he steps on the field because he’s such a competitor,” Vanderdorf said. “He’s a very vocal leader and demands everybody around him to compete at the highest level.”
Even so, Williams knows there will be games like the Aug. 26 opener, when he topped that week’s national charts with 502 yards and six total scores, as well as outings like last Friday, when his five touchdowns were offset by three interceptions, including two pick-sixes.
“I wasn’t nervous at first because I knew what I could do,” Williams said, “but at the same time, I haven’t had much experience as the starting quarterback, so there are still things to work on.”
“I’m playing every game like it’s my last, though, because there’s no next year for me to prove myself; this is it,” Williams said. “I know my time is now.”
So far, with the season and William’s varsity quarterback career just three games young, only Houston, North Texas and UTEP have shown interest. But Williams isn’t worried; he figures his recruitment will take care of itself.
Besides, if nothing else, Williams knows that good things still do come to those who wait.
Brandon Parker covers Texas for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHIGHSCHOOL.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at email@example.com.