- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

Madieu Williams grew up in Lanham, a Hail Mary pass from the future site of FedEx Field, watching the Redskins. These were the Redskins of Art Monk, Gary Clark and Darrell Green. “The good old days,” Williams said, expressing a sentiment not just his own.

As a star at DuVal High School, Williams imagined himself playing at FedEx, if not for the Redskins then another team. This was heady stuff for a youngster whose football future looked dim. But somehow, some way, Williams believed, it would happen.

Welcome home. On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals rookie will line up at safety at FedEx against the Redskins of Clinton Portis, Laveranues Coles and Shawn Springs.

“More than likely I’ll have butterflies,” Williams said by telephone this week from Cincinnati. “But it won’t deter me from doing my job.”

Little has so far. A second-round draft pick last spring, No.56 overall, Williams has been a pleasant and versatile surprise for the 3-5 Bengals.

Williams, who excelled at safety at Maryland after walking on as a cornerback, opened Cincinnati’s season against the Jets as a starting corner because of injuries. It was rough going, but he bounced back and started the last three games at safety (he also plays nickel corner) for injured Kim Herring.

In the Bengals’ 26-3 win over Dallas last Sunday, Williams had nine tackles and an interception. Earlier against Tennessee, he ran back an interception 51 yards for a touchdown.

“Madieu has played very well,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who saw Williams up close when he coached the North against Williams’ South team in the Senior Bowl.

“What has impressed me the most about him is that this game’s not too big for him,” Lewis said. “Whether we started him at corner or we put him back at safety, he has embraced everything we do. If he makes an error, he generally makes the correction on the next play. He’s a fine tackler, and he understands the game.

Williams had a few things to correct in the Jets game, including getting beat on a 46-yard touchdown reception by Jonathan Reese. “That was a rough one,” he said. “I got baptized.”

But Williams learns quickly.

“I thought I had good coverage on him, but the quarterback made an excellent throw, and [Reese] made an excellent catch,” Williams said. “That’s the way the NFL goes. When a play is well executed, there’s nothing you can do. Somebody’s gonna make a play, and somebody’s gonna get beat.

“I’ve learned how to be patient and realize things aren’t gonna go your way all the time. The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes and capitalize on what you’ve learned. I never lost my confidence.”

Williams was underestimated as a high school player. He wanted to play for Maryland, coached by Ron Vanderlinden at the time, but was ignored even after participating in Maryland’s football camp for two years.

Williams enrolled at Towson but left after two seasons, destined for bigger things. He transferred to Maryland without a scholarship for the spring 2001 semester, bent on proving to new coach Ralph Friedgen and his staff that he could play.

“I realized that was my opportunity, with everyone starting from scratch,” Williams said. “I don’t think I could have written a better script.”

Williams earned a scholarship within a week.

“I’m not a rocket scientist, but after three or four practices I said to Ralph, ‘We need to keep this kid. He’s special,’” Terrapins defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said.

Williams sat out the 2001 season after transferring, then became a mainstay of the Maryland defense the next two seasons.

“He’s one of the better safeties I’ve ever coached,” said Blackney who, as an assistant at UCLA, worked with All-American Kenny Easley. “He’s a very instinctive guy, very physical, excellent feet and quickness.”

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