Marcus Williamson catching a pass in practice while running a drill.

Ohio State senior cornerback Marcus Williamson (21) practices at the Ohio State practice facilities on Sept. 9. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

Marcus Williamson is not built like Kerry Coombs’ ideal cornerback. 

Unlike the plethora of long and fast cornerbacks that Ohio State defensive coordinator Coombs recruited in his first stint at Ohio State, Williamson stands at just 5-foot-9. Despite breaking the mold at Ohio State and fighting injuries throughout his career, Williamson has an opportunity to play a key role for the Ohio State secondary in 2020 with his work at slot cornerback –– a position less dependent on height. 

Although Williamson’s stature does not fit the norm, Coombs, who said he values grit and confidence above physical qualities, spoke highly of the senior’s development.

“I recruited Marcus out of high school. I’ve always found him to be a thoughtful, intelligent player, who plays really, really hard,” Coombs said in a Tuesday Zoom conference. “I think that he’s had an extraordinary offseason. I think he’s playing really well right now. I’m excited to watch him continue to grow and compete as the season goes forward.”

Having recruited Williamson since he was 15 years old, Coombs said that Williamson will see more time in the slot, because he will match up well with the size of slot receivers. 

Although Williamson said that players have been bouncing around the secondary to reflect the unit’s identity of versatility, the Ohio native is confident he can bring something to the slot cornerback position. 

“I’ve been in this program for a few years. I’ve had a lot of coaching, a lot of different coaches, and I think I’ve been able to bring a lot of that football knowledge to the position along with my personal skill set,” Williamson said. 

In his first three years at Ohio State, Williamson struggled to find playing time in the stacked secondary. With his 2018 season cut short after playing in just four games due to an undisclosed injury, Williamson said he is excited to get this opportunity to compete for a starting spot. 

“I came in pretty much injury-ridden my first couple years,” Williamson said. “Having this extra year, it’s given me a new lifeblood. I’m so ready to help this team and help us win and I think that’s really the driving force behind it.” 

Williamson spent his first few seasons learning behind NFL first-round talent such as Jeffery Okudah and Damon Arnette. With experience around top-ranked players, Williamson said that he’s striving to reach that same level as those before him. 

“Being able to sit down and watch those guys and how they compete and understanding that I came in with those guys too,” Williamson said. “I’m just trying to reach that standard that a guy, last year, like Jeff (Okudah) set and guys previous.” 

Despite having that wealth of talent around him to learn from, there was also plenty of coaching turnover in Williamson’s collegiate career. With Coombs’ departure for the NFL in 2018, Williamson never had both the defensive coordinator and secondary coach return to coach him again in the following season.

With the coaching movement, Williamson attributed some of his versatility to the varying range of coaching he received. 

“I think with all that coaching, it’s just brought so much knowledge and so many different techniques and styles that I’ve been able to bring in and utilize on the field,” Williamson said. 

However, Williamson said he is excited to be reunited with Coombs in the defensive locker room and that his presence has reinvigorated him as a football player. 

“Now that coach Coombs is back, it’s really rejuvenated me and kinda reminded me why we come here,” Williamson said. “We come here to win championships and get to the next level and coach Coombs preaches that everyday.” 

Coombs’ familiar presence has not been the only thing that has helped Williamson, however. 

Williamson said the knowledge that his former coach has brought back from the NFL has benefitted the fourth-year player. 

“He’s always just had a great football knowledge and a great sense of technique,” Williamson said. “And he’s really brought that knowledge back to us and really just helped us to take that next step forward and understand where we are and where we want to go.”

Although his senior season has been unusual, Williamson said the extra year of eligibility that was approved by the NCAA Aug. 21 has provided relief to his career which has not gone to plan. 

“I’ve had some seasons cut short here, and having this extra year, it gives me a sense of freedom to just go out there and play and have fun and be that leader for the guys that I think we need on defense,” Williamson said.

Correction: “Florida native” was changed to “Ohio native” for Marcus Williamson at 12:44 p.m., Friday, Sept. 25.