Marlon Williams: He’s Got What It Takes

He may not be 6-3—routinely leaping into the night like a gazelle to haul in passes.
He may not qualify as the fastest receiver on the UCF football roster.
He may not look like the prototypical major-college pass-catcher.
And he may not "wow" opposing defenses with anything in particular when cornerbacks crouch across the line of scrimmage.
Yet, while going about his duties in his trademarked, low-key, unassuming manner, UCF senior receiver Marlon Williams has quietly and confidently established himself as one of the most productive pass-catchers in the country.
The Mobile, Alabama, product takes care of his business and, in the process, has played a major role as the Knights in 2020 have produced some of the shiniest offensive numbers in the history of college football.
With Williams leading the nation in receiving yards for multiple weeks, he has helped UCF pace the country in total offense and passing yards since early in the season (the Knights currently rank first in NCAA statistics in both those categories).
His 63 catches for 942 yards equate to 134.6 receiving yards per game (fourth in the country). Only one player in the nation has more receiving yards in 2020. Only three have caught more TDs passes than his eight and only four average more than his 9.0 receptions per game.
Looking for a big play? Already this season Williams has 17 receptions for at least 20 yards (to lead the team), including an 85-yarder (Memphis), a 54-yarder (Tulane), a 50-yarder (Temple) and four others of 35 or more yards.
UCF assistant coaches have no problem understanding why Williams has been so successful.
"One, he has incredible hands," says first-year Knight quarterback coach Joey Halzle.
"It's really the strength and the softness of his hands at the same time—he grabs anything in the catch radius he has. He's coming down with the football.
"His strength is a problem for smaller defensive backs because, even if they're in position, he can just go take the ball away from them.
"Plus, he's not easy for one guy to take down. Typically, the first guy doesn't bring him to the ground.
"He's stepping out of one or two tackles every single time, so the ball he's catching at 15 (yards) is getting him 30."
UCF receiver coach Darrell Wyatt has watched every day as Williams has evolved.
"The biggest thing about Marlon is his maturity level this year compared to where he was year one, year two, year three. He is an immensely talented kid, but his role has increased as his maturity and trust level have increased.
"There's never been a question about his ability.
"Here's the thing about Marlon which I think catches everyone by surprise.
"He's not a 6-3 guy, not a long guy, but he has extremely strong legs. He's built like a running back—and he has at least a 40-inch vertical jump.
"So he's a 5-11, six-foot guy who plays like a 6-3 guy.
"He's really, really strong after the catch, and he has deceptive speed. In our receiver group, everybody's fast, so those other guys tease him a little.
"He has really come into his own and I'm really happy for him."
Adds UCF tight end coach and co-offensive coordinator Alex Golesh:
"He's a hard tackle, he's got great hands.
"He'll snag anything you throw at him."
Williams originally committed to USC and also took official visits to LSU and Georgia Tech. But ultimately UCF won out.
"I really fell in love with the campus when I visited here. I liked the vision they had for the program. I thought it was headed in the right way," he says.
"I wanted the chance to play right away, and ultimately I did (17 receptions for UCF's unbeaten championship team in 2017)."
He came to Orlando in the same class as Gabriel Davis (now a rookie with the NFL Buffalo Bills) and as a true freshman watched closely as Tre'Quan Smith (now starring with the NFL New Orleans Saints) led the Knights with nearly 1,200 receiving yards.
"Being around Tre'Quan and all the other receivers we had, they wanted to be great all the time," says Williams. "It all rubbed off on me. That freshman year (2017) was so fun—probably the best I had based on winning all those games."
Williams was used to high-level success. He helped both his high school football and basketball teams to Alabama 7A state titles as a junior in 2015-16—and scored 19 points in the basketball state championship game to merit all-tourney recognition on a team that finished 29-6.
His McGill-Toolen High School football program won 28 of its last 30 games during Williams' prep career (he caught 46 passes as a prep senior for 990 yards and 13 TDs, running for seven other TDs out of a wildcat look)--and yet he calls basketball his first love.
"He's an elite basketball player, probably the best basketball player on our football team," says Wyatt.
Williams remembers coming to UCF and thinking the playbook was complex: "You're used to running maybe 15 plays in high school and here we'd learn 15 plays in one day."
Yet the adjustment came quickly.
He added 18 more receptions as a sophomore in 2018, then 51 for 717 yards and six TDs in 2019. He caught nine balls for 119 yards in a 2019 win at Tulane and then, with Davis sitting out the Gasparilla Bowl, finished his junior season with seven receptions for 132 yards in Tampa (including a 75-yard TD reception in the Knights' convincing bowl win over Marshall).
Williams' 2020 season already has included five 100-plus-yard receiving games—191 at Memphis, 174 vs. Tulane, 154 in the opener at Georgia Tech, 136 at East Carolina and 102 vs. Temple.
He caught 13 balls against both Memphis and ECU, 10 against Georgia Tech and nine each versus Tulsa and Tulane.
"I watch a lot of NFL, watch the top guys to see what they're doing," Williams says. "I don't really have a particular top receiver. If I watch a game, I just watch all the receivers. I look for guys who are built like me—like Anquan Boldin (former Florida State receiver who played 14 years in the NFL)."
He has earned comparisons with pros such as A.J. Brown (rookie Tennessee Titan receiver out of Ole Miss). One assessment of collegiate standouts described him as "a compact, contact-balance stud." Another called him "a beast after the catch."
Pro Football Focus, in its Nov. 4 rankings of collegiate receivers, noted Williams had the seventh-best receiving grade in the FBS (88.0 through six games) in addition to leading the FBS in broken tackles (17) and total receiving yards after contact (368).
"For me, I always knew what I was capable of," Williams says. "It was just taking advantage of the opportunity presented to me. I just try to make the most out of those opportunities. We practice hard and we've got a lot of playmakers on our team—it's just gelling together and doing everything the right way."
Every once in a while he admits to taking a peak at the statistics.
"Flash (Jaylon Robinson, who has 822 receiving yards of his own in 2020) and I look at our numbers, not selfishly, but just to see where the competition is. Because we want to be the best.
"It's that way with everybody on our offense—we want to be the best at what we do."
Williams and Robinson arguably comprise the most potent receiving duo anywhere in college football.
Yet Williams takes the extra attention this fall in stride.
"Everybody tells you they're watching you—that comes with the territory when you have some success," he says.
"Last year Gabe was the target for everybody. Now everybody tells me to keep working hard, they're proud of me.
"At first it was weird--now it's just another compliment you take and keep working."
Once in a while, Williams thinks back to that magical freshman season in 2017 when he first learned the ropes.
"Gabe and I came in together, so we were always working together.
"It was amazing my first year watching Tre'Quan. He never talked about it—he just came to work and did his job.
"Gabe and I saw it and it rubbed off on us—we saw what was happening."
All that work, dedication, preparation and perseverance have translated impressively in 2020.
"It's been a fun season—scoring points and getting lots of yards," says Williams. "That's what you practice for."
Outside observers might have wondered where the Knights would be this fall when it came to the UCF receiver group.
After all, Davis headed to Buffalo as a fifth-round NFL draft pick. Scatback Adrian Killins Jr. and his world-class speed graduated to the Philadelphia Eagles' roster. Then veteran Tre Nixon went down in the 2020 opener at Georgia Tech and has not played since.
"Those guys leave, and yet we never had a thought the offensive production would go down," says Williams.
"We just look at it as an opportunity for the rest of us in the receiver room to do more. That's how we think.
"All of us are competitors. It got under our skin a little when people said, 'Well, Gabe is leaving and they don't know how the offense is going to be.'
"It made us want to work harder. And we put in the work."
And Williams doesn't worry about what people think when they initially view his six-foot, 215-pound frame.
"When people first see me, they may not think I look like the typical receiver," he says.
"I just try to show people what I can do, show them I can do everything that everyone else does."
Williams appreciates his family time—he lives off-campus in Orlando with his mother and sister.
He likes old movies—one particular favorite is 1989 classic "Harlem Nights" starring Eddie Murphy.
Then, on Saturdays, he and the Knights try to create a showtime vibe of their own.