Marquise Williams returns home for Belk Bowl


UNC quarterback Marquise Williams celebrates a touchdown pass.

CHARLOTTE — A ride at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a Belk Shopping spree, a reception at the NASCAR Hall of Fame — Marquise Williams has enjoyed those Belk Bowl festivities, but nothing has compared to his first steps on the Mallard Creek High School football field for bowl practice Tuesday.

The last time he stepped on that field, he was Mallard Creek’s quarterback.

“It was unbelievable,” said Williams, now the starting quarterback for North Carolina. “I ran onto it, and I was like, ‘Man, this is back in high school days.’ I was just getting the chills, like, ‘Oh man, I used to play here.”’

A couple of weeks ago, Williams’ alma mater claimed its first-ever state title in a 59-21 blowout of Wake Forest High. Now, Williams will be looking to lead his current team to glory in today’s Belk Bowl against Cincinnati — and he’s expecting plenty of friends and family members to fill the Bank of America Stadium stands.

While at Mallard Creek, Williams made the state playoffs in his junior and senior years, leading the program to new heights following a one-win season in his freshman year. As a senior, Williams passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, establishing himself as a dual-threat quarterback.

Those talents have been on display this season, as Williams emerged as a legitimate option in a dual-quarterback system then took over the starting role after Bryn Renner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury Nov. 2 against N.C. State.

“I just had to come in and fill some big shoes,” Williams said. “Bryn Renner is an unbelievable quarterback, and I had to come in and have some fun and play with these guys. It’s been great for me, and I really appreciate being able to come out and play in this game.”

With 490 yards on 102 carries, Williams is UNC’s leading rusher. He’s thrown for 1,527 yards across 11 games with a 146.45 passer efficiency rating, and his run-and-gun playing style conforms to coach Larry Fedora’s no-huddle spread offense.

“He’s done a great job running the offense,” senior left tackle James Hurst said. “Obviously, he’s a great fit for the scheme that we run, so that helps everything. Him having more experience every week opens up the playbook more and gives us more opportunities to put points on the board.”

Though his comfort with UNC’s offense has grown, Williams will have his hands full today, facing the No. 8 defense in the country. But it’ll also be a homecoming for the redshirt sophomore, a chance to play on the same field where Cam Newton, one of Williams’ favorite quarterbacks, plays every Sunday and an opportunity to play in front of some of his biggest personal fans.

He’ll look to put on a show.

“Hopefully, I have some big dreams and dream of seven touchdowns,” Williams said Friday. “Because coach always says when you dream, it comes true.

“So I’m going to dream about seven, and hopefully I come out with eight or nine.”

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