August 20, 2002
COLLEGE PARK - It's remarkable that Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney is on record as saying he doesn't think the team will suffer any dropoff at free safety this fall. Privately, Blackney even has suggested that the Terps actually could be better at that crucial secondary position.
What?! Maryland's starting free safety last season was wily fifth-year senior Tony Jackson, a first-team All-ACC selection.
Yet the few observers who have seen Madieu Williams play know Blackney isn't just blowing smoke. Blackney, who also coaches defensive backs, considers Williams the complete package. He possesses good size (6-1, 193) and speed (4.5) and is equally adept at defending the run and pass.
"Madieu is rare in that he could probably play any spot in the secondary," Blackney said. "He'd make a great cover corner, but the problem with playing him there is that he might only be involved in half the action. He's a very sure tackler. At free safety, he's involved in all the action."
The reason most ACC fans have never heard of Williams is that he's a transfer from Division I-AA Towson. While sitting out last season under NCAA rules, he impressed the coaching staff every day in practice. He was so impressive working against the starting unit that he was named defensive scout team player of the year. Most fans first found out about Williams in the spring of 2001, when he was perhaps the top defensive performer in the annual Red-White game, laying out receivers left and right.
Williams' story is a testament to the inexact science of football recruiting. A product of nearby DuVal High in Prince George's County, he was on Maryland's radar and came close to receiving a scholarship offer. Yet coaches weren't sold on his speed at the time (4.6), and they certainly weren't going to take a chance on a marginal prospect who wasn't qualified academically.
"Maryland liked me and was recruiting me, but when it came time to offer, I still didn't have the SAT score I needed," Williams said. "I didn't qualify until late January, and by then all the scholarships were used up."
Recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley tried to get Williams to join the program as a preferred walk-on, but he chose Towson instead. He made an immediate impact in the Patriot League, starting nine of 11 games and ranking among the team leaders with 42 tackles. He really blossomed as a sophomore, starting every game and totaling 53 tackles and 10 pass breakups. Towson coach Gordy Combs, recognizing that Williams could play at a higher level, called Maryland to recommend him.
With the Terps, Williams is following in the footsteps of former Maryland cornerback Chad Scott. Another Towson product, Scott played so well in his two-year stint in College Park that he became a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.