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After working his way into the UNC rotation last fall and helping the Tar Heels win five out of its last six games, including the 2013 Belk Bowl in Charlotte, junior Marquise Williams comes into this spring season looking to cement himself as Carolina's first-string signal-caller.
"Marquise got a lot of reps (last season). He's started some games, so he's got some live action under his belt, which made him a lot more comfortable today," said head coach Larry Fedora following Wednesday's first practice of the spring. "And you could see that when you were looking at all the quarterbacks as they're competing. he's just a lot more comfortable than the other two (Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker).
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Williams naturally has the edge over Trubisky and Coker in terms of game experience, but he's also starting to develop a natural ease under center that typically comes with maturity and know-how.
"It helps me out a lot (last year's experiences), because I know more defensive schemes and stuff," he replied. "I know what to study for. I know to take more notes. It helps out big-time. I'm not going to go into my first game nervous and, 'Oh man, this is my first time starting.' So that Virginia Tech game helped me out, and then getting to start the rest of the season, it was a big push. So I'll be ready to go."
The biggest goals at this point of the year for Williams are to continue evolving into the supreme leader of this North Carolina football team, while also acclimating to new coaches Seth Littrell and Keith Heckendorf.
Williams had a good role model for leadership for three years, as he watched up-close as Bryn Renner played out his string as a Tar Heel. And now he's trying to take some of those lessons he learned from Renner and apply them to himself.
"(My goal is) to be a leader. That's the main key. Don't sit in the back. I'm taking the keys to the Porsche this time. So it's about business and making these guys believe in me. That's the only thing I do is just keep pushing these guys to be great. And that's the only thing I preach every day, is just to be great," Williams said. "(I want to) be that leader and be great. That guy (Renner) never missed a beat. So I feel like I have to be the same way or better. Just be great and push the guys to do what we need to do to win the ACC Championship this year."
Williams' UNC teammates have seen in recent months his desire to mold into a bona fide team leader, and they're impressed with the way he's been going about it.
"Marquise Williams, the starting quarterback of our team, (is) a great guy. We've got a lot of leaders that's ready to lead," said senior 'Bandit' Norkeithus Otis.
In terms of adjusting to his new coaches, Williams admits that they're a little more intense than the laid-back former offensive coordinator/QBs coach Blake Anderson, now the head coach at Arkansas State.
But in terms of the plays being learned and executed on the practice field, nothing has changed.
"It's the same, to be honest (offensively)," Williams told us. "Coach Heckendorf was here when Blake Anderson was here. It's been the same. It's just a little more intense in the meeting room and stuff. Everything's a little bit more serious than it was before, you know. But there's nothing different."
"We're learning the same scheme and doing the same things, and putting in extra stuff to get better. Nothing's really different."
Williams has been pleased his first few weeks working with Heckendorf again.
The former standout Division 2 quarterback, who was a finalist for that level's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy (the Harlan Hill Trophy) during his own playing days, is a hands-on position coach who focuses heavily on body position and overall fundamentals.
"That's all he (Heckendorf) preaches, being better with the feet, and arm strength," Williams said. "You want to use your torso. He's more that type of quarterback coach, to make sure everything falls into order."
Williams has also been impressed with the workmanlike attitude Littrell has brought to Chapel Hill, as well as his background producing highly-productive spread offenses at little-regarded football schools such as Indiana and Arizona, among others.
"He's a great coach," Williams said of Littrell. "He's pushing us to be great. All we talk about is being great. He's unbelievable. I love him, and he's doing what we need to do to help us win football games. Coach Seth, he's about business. If you mess up, he's going to let you know how he feels about you. And the rest goes from that."
Though some quarterbacks might be a little miffed to find themselves in an open quarterback battle the first spring after assuming the mantle of starter, Williams doesn't bat an eye.
As Fedora mentioned recently, he inherited the position last year through injury.
And while he performed admirably, Williams still needs to outright win the UNC job on the field to earn even more respect from his teammates and the Tar Heel fanbase.
And certainly, with his playmaking ability and positive attitude, he's got a great opportunity to do just that.
"Hey man, it's a job. It's a competing job. And he (Trubisky) going to push me. I'm going to push him. That's the main thing. We're out here to do the same thing---be the first-string quarterback," Williams replied. "I love the competition. That's what I've been doing all my life is competing. Nobody's going to let down around here. We're just going to compete and have some fun with it."
While Trubisky and Williams don't routinely talk about the fact that they're competing for the most prestigious job on the football team, they have a mutual respect that comes with shared, similar responsibilities, as well as knowing that everyone's watching them.
"We don't really converse about that (the position battle)," said Williams of his relationship with Trubisky. "Everybody just goes out and gets their reps and does what they need to do. We don't really chat about that. We probably chat about what we're going to eat after practice more. We don't want to make it too hard on ourselves."
"Being at the quarterback position is kind of hard, but we're just going to ease up and play football (this spring)," he added.