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Sharrieff Shah wants credit.
The player Pro Football Focus graded as the best free safety in the country through four games is a disciple of defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, but it was Shah who was the first Utah coach to lay eyes on Marcus Williams.
The cornerback coach was recruiting in California's Inland Empire when he saw a scrawny junior with unbelievable speed. When Shah inquired about the kid, his head coach at Roosevelt High wasn't sure if Williams would translate to Division I football. Shah almost took his word for it until he saw Williams dunk over three people in a basketball game.
"We recruited him to do exactly what he's doing now," Shah said. "It's interesting that he's somebody we don't talk about, but his presence though it may not be recognized at times is always felt by us in the secondary. What he does is unbelievable. As a defense, we're only as good as our free safety."
What does Williams do? Everything.
In its early season All-America team, Pro Football Focus revealed that the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams was the only safety to get both a top-four rushing and passing grade in its system. Against San Jose State, Williams did not allow a catch in his coverage area on 39 pass attempts. He's picked off two passes and recovered two fumbles this season.
"I'm always licking my chops every game," he said. "I'm ball-hungry, so I'm gonna go get the ball."
Not that he can't hit when needed: He's tied for second with 24 tackles this year, including eight against USC as Utah's front seven struggled to contain the run game. His stop of JuJu Smith-Schuster on third down led to a punt that allowed Utah's game-winning drive.
Williams' game is powered by immense physical gifts: He has a 38-inch vertical leap (best on the team) that allows him to high-point passes. His sideline-to-sideline speed is probably the best among Utah's defenders, and it's rare to see a quarterback throw deep on Utah's secondary and Williams not at least contest the targeted receiver.
His own teammates sometimes are the victims of Williams' athleticism like freshman linebacker Davir Hamilton, who was dunked on by Williams in a video that has since been shared on ESPN and Bleacher Report (to Hamilton's chagrin).
"Man, he's one of the most athletic people I've seen," junior receiver Kenric Young said. "To jump like that, the explosiveness, he has it all."
But what has made Williams' talent truly meaningful is his intense focus and commitment to preparation.
There's a point in every game week when the film starts running together for Dominique Hatfield. He wants to step out of the film room, stop watching clips and finish up his prep by watching the scout team. Most players hit this point by hump day.
Then there's Williams, who watches as much as two hours of film per day throughout the week. Even on game day, Hatfield spies him watching clips of the receivers and quarterback they'll be facing in only a few hours.
Those clips are a gold mine for Williams: They tell him what routes the receivers like to run. They tell him how the quarterback will try to look him off his coverage. He reads the ways that the offense will try to attack and how they'll be vulnerable. This is a trait most say has been drilled in by Scalley.
"For him, it's never over," Hatfield said. "He's watching film hours before the game. That's the difference. It's all business with him."
Williams is a loud trash-talker on the field, and Young says the sound of his "squeaky voice" has grown on the team.
Williams is also intensely private. While personal life talk is frequent locker room fodder for other teammates, Williams doesn't offer much. What does emerge is that he's a neatnik roommate, he's close with his family back in California, who will be attending this week's game at Cal, and he has a deep connection to his faith.
Said Shah: "He's the guy you would want your daughter to marry."
Scheming against the Utah defense this week, it's unlikely the Golden Bears want any part of Williams. He caught a pick in Utah's 30-24 win over Cal in the last meeting, one of five team interceptions in a game that boosted the secondary's reputation (and his personal rep).
But Williams doesn't linger on that game, or any other he's played, all that much. He's focused squarely ahead. After all, he's still got film to watch.
"That's out of the way, it's all about this year's game," he said. "Last year doesn't matter. It's all about Saturday."
No. 18 Utah at California
P Saturday, 4 p.m. MDT TV • Pac-12 Network
Williams makes presence felt
Junior Marcus Williams was graded as Pro Football Focus' top safety in the country through four games. Since taking over as a starter as a freshman, he's made a substantial impact for Utah:
• All-Pac-12 first team in 2015, with team-best five interceptions, 10 pass deflections
• Tied for second with 24 tackles this year, with two picks and two fumble recoveries
• Only safety in PFF grades ranked in top four against both run and pass
• Has played all 30 games since joining the Utes and started 23 games
• A former three-sport athlete at Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Corona, Calif.) with a 6-foot-5 personal best in high jump