Mark Williams looks to bounce back for the Eastern football team this season

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Mark Williams looks to bounce back for the Eastern football team this season

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News
Mark Williams (right) tackles an Indiana State ball carrier as Raymond Crittenden (left) gets ready to help out during Eastern’s 55-41 loss in September 2018 at O’Brien Field.

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News Mark Williams (right) tackles an Indiana State ball carrier as Raymond Crittenden (left) gets ready to help out during Eastern’s 55-41 loss in September 2018 at O’Brien Field.

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News Mark Williams (right) tackles an Indiana State ball carrier as Raymond Crittenden (left) gets ready to help out during Eastern’s 55-41 loss in September 2018 at O’Brien Field.

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News Mark Williams (right) tackles an Indiana State ball carrier as Raymond Crittenden (left) gets ready to help out during Eastern’s 55-41 loss in September 2018 at O’Brien Field.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

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Rock bottom came on Oct. 6.

The Eastern football team had just lost at home to Murray State 48-41, and the defense had been embarrassed by the Racers’ offense for a total of 658 yards, the third-most ever allowed in school history.

The scene on the Eastern sideline after the game was a somber one: Tears were shed, heads were buried in hands and a silence hung in the air.

In the middle of that scene was Eastern cornerback Mark Williams. The sophomore, who just one-year prior was a freshman all-American and an all-conference player, had his head buried in the shoulder of senior defensive back Dysaun Smith.

Williams, like many of his teammates, were visibly upset.

Williams said that to see the Murray State players celebrate their win on Eastern’s field broke him down, and it was the “low-point” in his career at Eastern.

The Murray State loss spelled out a just a piece of a very long and painful story for Eastern’s defense last season. Williams’ himself had struggled in the game and throughout the season: The former all-conference corner dealt with injuries that hampered his performance level.

But this season, Williams is healthy and ready to return to the all-conference player he was two years ago, and if you ask anyone around the Eastern program, they will tell you that Williams, the son of a former NFL defensive back, has all of the talent in the world to once again be an all-conference player.

As Eastern head coach Adam Cushing put it, “He’s got talent, my four-year old son could turn on the video and tell you that he’s got talent.”

“Mark has a bunch of ability and really has matured a ton, even in our time here and we have really seen him take initiative for the opportunity to be great,” Cushing said. “More importantly is that he has really become a good teammate, he’s out there sacrificing for the brother next to him and he is out there doing all of the little things that it takes to be successful.”

The understanding that Williams’ 2018 season was hampered by injury is almost universal.

On top of that, Eastern defensive coordinator Chris Bowers believes that if the players around Williams can perform better than they did last year, that too will help Williams once again play at a high level.

Regardless, expectations for the redshirt junior corner are high headed into 2019.

“I have higher expectations for him this year,” Bowers said. “He is a guy that we believe can match up to any receiver that we’re going to see all year, including people in the FBS.”

Williams’ athleticism opens up the defensive playbook quite a lot for Eastern.

He is fast enough to keep up with receivers and physical enough to keep them in check. But, what really separates Williams is something that both Cushing and former head coach Kim Dameron have said about the cornerback: He has an extremely high football IQ.

“He certainly gives you a lot of options at defensive coordinators, you can do a lot of things scheme-wise because you can feel pretty good about where he is at and he is also a great, great football intelligence,” Cushing said. “He understands the game, he gets all of the little nuances in the position, so you have a lot of flexibility to have a guy out there that allows you to do a bunch of different things, to really be able to keep offensive guys on their toes.”

To get back to all-conference status, Williams said he has gone more in-depth into the Eastern playbook and has spent more time working on himself and his technique.

As far as what to do if injuries or struggles begin to creep back into his play, Williams can lean on his father for advice.

One piece of advice his dad has given him is, “Never get too high, never get too low.”

“My parents, they call me every night,” Williams said. “They check on me every day. (My Dad) is a good person to go to, he gives me a lot of advice. Never get too high, never get too low and just stay in the game, stay in the playbook and stay in your technique and just improve every day.”

The talent is there with Williams.

With it comes the expectation that he will again be an all-conference type player, and odds are he will be.

Williams believes it, Cushing believes it, Bowers believes it.

If that belief becomes reality in 2019, then never again will Williams and the Eastern defense ever have to be at rock bottom like they were Oct. 6, 2018.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]