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Spotlight shines on Marcus Williams' little corner

New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams warms up

New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams warms up prior to an NFL preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Credit: Steven Ryan

Marcus Williams reversed and fast-forwarded the video, studying every movement.

Even now, almost a week later, it still eats at him.

While everyone else focuses on his interception of Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel, Williams was fixated on the play he didn't make: a 20-yard completion by Cleveland's Travis Benjamin.

"I've been studying that play for a while now, so I can make sure it doesn't happen this week," Williams said, referencing the Jets' Monday Night Football matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.

The second-year cornerback -- who sprang into action after Antonio Cromartie was carted off the field with a knee injury -- is now a highly sought-after interview subject thanks to his burgeoning role on defense. His locker stall resembles a supermarket deli counter, complete with a single-file queue of reporters intent on learning more about him.

But the truth is, Williams has always made plays. He's just never been a big name.

"I've always felt like I was the guy that was overlooked. I don't know why," he told Newsday. "It keeps me going," added the cornerback, who received a game ball last week. "It keeps my fuel high. It makes me feel like I have to keep proving people wrong."

Williams will have another opportunity to do so -- this time, on the road against Andrew Luck, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. With Cromartie questionable and Darrin Walls (hamstring) ruled out, Williams, 24, will see more playing time, most likely at outside cornerback, as well as in the slot.

And the Jets secondary will need all the help it can get covering receivers T.Y. Hilton (who's questionable with a knee injury), Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief and speedy rookie Phillip Dorsett.

"I hope [Cromartie's] able to go because he's a great player and we need him," Williams said. "But if my number is called, it's no pressure at all."

Williams is the quintessential underdog and under-the-radar guy hellbent on playing big.

A three-year starter as a wide receiver and defensive back at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, he also was a two-year starter for the Royals' basketball team, which finished 31-0 as the 2008-09 Class 4A state champs. At North Dakota State, he won three national championships, was the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference football Defensive Player of the Year and also set an NDSU record with 21 career interceptions.

But in 2014, he went undrafted. "Not too many big schools were looking at me, so I just had to go with what I had," he said of attending NDSU.

In October 2012, Williams was one of 10 NDSU football players to plead guilty to misdemeanor election fraud for "faking signatures on ballot measure petitions they were hired to collect," according to the Associated Press. They were each ordered to serve "360 days of unsupervised probation, complete 50 hours of community service and pay $325 in fees."

But Williams doesn't think the incident affected his draft status. Instead, the 5-11, 196-pound corner highlighted the fact that some NFL teams believed his speed "wasn't up to par."

"I don't understand that either," said Williams, who ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.

The Houston Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent in May 2014, but released him from their practice squad Sept. 24. The Jets immediately signed Williams to their practice squad and promoted him to the active roster a month later. And in a short time, he's managed to impress the new Jets regime.

Todd Bowles, a man of few words and measured praise, raved about Williams after last week's win.

"The game is not too big for him," the Jets coach said of Williams, who, as a rookie, picked off quarterback Tom Brady in the Jets' 17-16 home-loss to New England on Dec. 21. "He is not scared of anyone out there. He is not scared to be on an island. I feel like he's a six- or seven-year player. He's one of my favorite players."

Williams recalled Bowles taking him aside during the first week of training camp and complimenting him on his strong practices in OTAs. "Todd, he's a great coach. Ever since he's gotten here, I've been in his ear; just trying to learn the game, see how he views the game. Me, being a second-year guy, and the fact that he has that much trust in me, it means a lot. So I'm going to work my butt off for him every single game."

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