LAS VEGAS – Falcons special teams coordinator Marquice Williams sat around a coffee table in his hotel suite after Day 3 of practice for the East-West Shrine Bowl, reflecting on his coaching journey and the culmination of events that it took to get here.
Long days, early mornings, and sacrifice. Yet, faith and family are what carried him through the most challenging times.
"Just that family support that I had growing up and seeing the hard work that they had, and they never complained about anything," Williams told atlantafalcons.com. "They put us in a position where we knew what hard work was. We knew that, if you wanted success in life, there were no shortcuts. Learning that from my parents and being able to apply that in life -- those principles that were instilled in me since I was a little kid. I really appreciate and value that so my why is my family, because family is everything to me."
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Now, 13 years into his coaching career, Williams has risen through the ranks to become a respected special teams coordinator in Atlanta. That earned head coach Arthur Smith's nomination to serve as head coach of the East team in the Shrine Bowl that will be played on Feb. 2 at Allegiant Stadium. That's a big deal, a rare opportunity to gain experience running a squad.
"[Smith} knows that I want to be the best version of myself both on and off the field, and especially professionally," Williams said. "For him to provide me with this opportunity and be considered for this, and for the rest of the Falcons organization to back that up, I'm very grateful and I don't take this opportunity lightly when it comes to that."
Growing up in Fresno, Calif., Williams didn't aspire to be a football coach but always loved the game. He first started playing football in the seventh grade with his younger brother, until he graduated from the University of Mary in 2008, where he played defensive back.
"When you're around it, time goes by so fast because you're having so much fun doing it," Williams said, "and then when I was playing it as a player, I loved all the details of alignments, splits, and tendencies. All those different things were fascinating to me."
Williams also had a strong interest in physical therapy, because that path allowed him to see help people be their best throughout the recovery process and kept him around the game is football. He worked as a physical therapist after graduating from the University of Mary for two years. Williams consistently turned down opportunities to coach during that span, but his wife Elizabeth knew coaching was his calling.
"My fiancée at the time was the one that pushed me to get into coaching because I turned it down initially the first couple of times," Williams said. "Once I got into it and saw that I was working crazy hours for very little pay, I knew it was going to pay off because I was staying in the present and I was helping guys get better."
He eventually accepted a position as outside linebackers & assistant special teams coach at Winona State 2010. Williams spent just a season there before having short stints at Central Oklahoma and South Dakota. In 2013, Williams was selected to the Bill Walsh NFL diversity coaching fellowship with the Chicago Bears.
He again participated in the Bill Walsh diversity fellowship in 2015, this time with the Detroit Lions. Then he got a full-time NFL gig, landing an assistant special teams coaching position with the then-San Diego Chargers in 2016. Williams left San Diego to re-join the Lions for the second time in 2019 as assistant special teams coach, and two seasons later packed his bags and moved his family to Atlanta to sign with the Falcons in January 2021.
Atlanta provided Williams with his first opportunity as a special teams coordinator.
"When I got the job here, even during the interview process, Arthur [Smith] saw me for who I am," Williams said. "He's one of the few people, outside of my family members, that sees me for who I am, and I tell him that all the time. I appreciate him for that because he's authentic and he's so real and he cares about others."
Under Williams' guidance and coaching, Falcons punt return specialist Avery Williams averaged a league leading 16.2 yards per punt return in 2022, and kicker Younghoe Koo connected on 27-of-29 field goal attempts and led the NFL with three game-winning field goals in 2021. His unit also had a blocked field goal and two blocked punts, including one for a touchdown. And Cordarrelle Patterson set the NFL record for kickoff return touchdowns to highlight an excellent season on special teams for Williams and his crew.
"The more you get to know somebody, the better you could help them, and you could understand their why, what motivates them, what gets them going." Williams said. "If I keep players best interest in mind at the forefront, no matter what, they're going to be successful."
Williams served as the special teams coordinator for the Shrine Bowl in 2017 and 2018, and now five years later, he's leading the next generation of football players as head coach.
"They understand the perspective of the opportunity that they have in this position to better themselves and their future, and potentially their families," Williams said. "They have an opportunity to leave a legacy and make their families proud."
Williams understands the magnitude this opportunity and how pivotal it is to his growth as a coach. When asked about head coaching aspirations in the future, he candidly answered.
"I love all the little things. Whether I'm talking to the equipment intern, somebody in the cafeteria, public relations department, community relations, operations, or scouting intern," Williams said. "All that stuff is important. I feel like when I do talk to people, because I get my energy from people, they feel like they are important. They have my full attention when I'm speaking to them. That's why I think I love everything about football, and I would love to be a head coach because all those things matter."
Williams' modus operandi has always been about helping people progress and improve, whether personally or professionally. That's something he's always prided himself on. Football just so happens to provide the opportunity to do just that.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.