Education. Family. Community.

Those were the three values that shined through at Marcus Williams’ draft celebration at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Williams, a Mustang alumni, was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints after his three-year career at the University of Utah.

After listening to Marcus, his family, coaches, and friends speak, it isn’t difficult to understand why he has become a success. It is evident that his mother, Franschell Williams, and father, Sylvester Williams, instilled in Marcus values that are important for success in life. One of those values was education.

His mother kicked off a string of speeches, and she immediately gained the respect and attention of the audience. A combination of eloquence, humor, and energy made her a captivating speaker. One message stood out: Education always comes before athletics. This message reached its climax when she said, “The most important thing to get you where you’re going to be in the future is your academics… They [colleges] are looking for athletes with the academics behind them. You have to excel on the field and in the classroom.”

A quiet Sylvester Williams sparked an eruption of laughter in the crowd when he added, “If the grades ain’t right, the game ain’t tight.”

The message of education clearly took a hold in Marcus from an early age. A neighbor of the Williams family recalled that he would get started on his homework right when he got home from school without being asked. This dedication to academic excellence lasted through high school and college; he graduated from Roosevelt with a 4.0 GPA.

Family and community were also emphasized at the celebration. Marcus was accompanied by his mother, father, and brothers. Marcus’ mother called for family, friends, and community members in the audience to stand up; nearly the whole audience rose to their feet. Franschell Williams used this to highlight how important family and the community has been in Marcus’ development as a person and a football player.

The celebration was as much a celebration of Marcus’ achievements as it was an opportunity to give back to the community. A number of sponsors, including Buffalo Wild Wings, Blaze Pizza, and McDonald’s, provided gift cards for the Williams family to raffle off. This was one of the many ways the family thanked the “village” that helped in Marcus’ upbringing.

Marcus has always been a gifted athlete. In high school, he was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, and track). Marcus’ former track coach, Shonna Bernard-Joseph, made the claim that if he hadn’t pursued football, he would be in the Olympics. She added that he “…always had a ‘prove them wrong’ attitude.”

A childhood coach said, “People always ask ‘Is Marcus ready for the Big Easy?’ The real question is: ‘Is the Big Easy ready for Marcus?’ He is going to elevate [the Saints].”

Sharrief Shah, the man who recruited Marcus and coaches corners at the University of Utah, spoke very highly of Marcus’ athletic ability. When speaking on the recruiting process, he said, “We needed someone who had incredible skills… I saw him going up so easy and so light and pulling the ball out of the air. He was unbelievable.”

Plenty of football players are talented; however, not every football player is a tremendous person. If there is one word that could be used to describe Marcus, humble comes to mind. He was congratulated on his accomplishments and he replied, “What accomplishments?” It is that mentality that has fueled his constant quest for greatness. As people walked into the high school, they were handed cards that were titled “Williams’ Keys to Success”. One of the quotes Marcus created and lives by stood out; “Talent can only get one so far, but it’s those people with the desire, determination, mentality, and ability to outwork everyone and overcome adversity that are successful!”

The quality of his character was further celebrated by his coaches. Sharrief Shah said, “There is so much wrong with college football; drugs, assaulting women. Marcus, you are everything that’s right [about college football].” His defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Utah added, “I’ve been coaching safeties for ten years now and I’ve never coached anyone better… There’s nothing wrong. He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink.”

The celebration concluded with Marcus addressing the young athletes in the audience. “You can’t just think that being mediocre is okay… In anything you do, you gotta want to be better than everyone else… You don’t want to be the person that gets complacent… Listen to your parents. That’s the most important part.”

No one knows how Marcus Williams’ career will play out, but if his character is any indication of how he will play as a professional, he will be one of the best players to ever step on the field. He has all of the traits both on and off the field that lead to sustained success in the NFL.

The New Orleans Saints will be hosting an optional rookie minicamp from May 5th to May 8th. May 15th marks the official reporting date for new additions to the team (like Marcus). On August 20th, Marcus Williams will return to Southern California for a preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers; he will also make an appearance on November 26th as the Saints will take on the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints’ regular season opener will be televised on Monday Night Football as the Saints travel to Minnesota to compete against the Vikings on September 11th.

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