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Williamson runs for yards after the catch on a 15-yard gain against Austin Peay. (Mike Williamson)
 
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Williamson Parlays Summer Workouts Into Serious Playing Time

Sept. 20, 2007

By Marty Mishow, Southeast Missourian

Three of the four players voted Southeast Missouri State's captains for this season started last year.

The other rarely saw the field.

And that, according to Southeast coach Tony Samuel, is a testament to how much Michael Williamson is liked and respected by his teammates.

"He's worked very hard, he has a passion for the game and he's a good leader," Samuel said. "You can see the respect he has, to be a team captain.

"And this is not something that the coaches pick. This is his teammates doing the voting."

Before this season, as far as on-field accomplishments, Williamson had little in common with the Redhawks' other three captains.

Senior linebacker Adam Casper was first-team all-OVC in 2006, senior offensive lineman Francisco Perez is a four-year starter and senior fullback Clint Jones led the Redhawks in receptions last season.

Then there is Williamson, a junior wide receiver in his fourth season with the program, including one year as a redshirt. He had never caught a pass while seeing virtually no action.

"I think the last two games last year, he got in for a few snaps," Samuel said.

That, however, is no longer the case.

While Williamson might have been voted a Southeast captain before accomplishing anything on the field, he is now a starting wide receiver for the Redhawks.

Credit hard work and a never-give-up attitude.

"I had a feeling this would be a make-or-break year for me. I was either going to play or be a backup," Williamson said. "I stayed here over the summer and worked my butt off."

From Texas to Southeast

Williamson, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, is from Arlington, Texas, a state where football rules.

He was a solid player at Lamar High School, but didn't get the opportunity to catch many passes in the Vikings' ground-oriented offense.

Williamson was intent on playing college football and he had some Division II scholarship offers.

"But I always felt, if I worked my butt off, I could compete at the Division I level," he said.

So he and his father, Mike Sr., set out to find a Division I-AA program that would give him an opportunity.

"Me and my dad got on the Internet and tried to pick out the top 10 passing schools in the nation in I-AA," Williamson said. "We sent out letters to all 10. We wrote that I didn't expect anything, that I just wanted to walk on and be guaranteed a spot on the team, and maybe have a chance to earn a scholarship in the future.

"I felt like I was overlooked in high school and I just wanted a chance to play at that level."

As things turned out, then-Southeast coach Tim Billings and his staff were the first to respond among the 10 schools the Williamsons targeted.

"We had Southeast ranked No. 2 for passing schools and they were the first one to call us back," Williamson said. "My dad is originally from Independence, Mo., and we thought this would be a good place for me."

Williamson laughed when asked about the irony that he and his father were looking for a passing program -- Southeast featured a wide-open attack under Billings -- but he now finds himself playing in a run-oriented system under second-year coach Samuel.

"It is kind of ironic, but in high school we didn't throw much at all either," he said. "I've just had to try and help in other ways, like blocking. Whatever it takes to help the team, I want to do."

Some tough early times

Williamson said he was confident when he arrived at Southeast that he would eventually be able to work his way into the lineup.

But various circumstances conspired to make that wait longer than he envisioned.

After redshirting his first year at Southeast in 2004, Williamson suffered a serious knee injury that wiped out his 2005 season. Billings resigned after that campaign.

Samuel took over the program and was greeted with a big senior class, including a senior-dominated wide receiver corps.

"I hurt my knee, which set me back, and then coach Billings left," Williamson said. "Last year I was still coming back from the injury, and we had all those seniors [at wideout], who coach Samuel was going to give a chance. I knew it would be hard for me to play much."

Williamson basically received no playing time, save for those few plays in the final two games.

But he was undaunted.

"I still felt like I could play at this level," he said. "I was just going to keep working as hard as I could."

Finally, a scholarship

Williamson stayed in Cape Girardeau over the summer in order to be as prepared as possible for his push to break into the lineup.

Along the way, he received an added bonus -- a scholarship.

"We put him on scholarship this summer," said Samuel, who smiled when asked if it was a case of Williamson being rewarded for his hard work.

"We don't give out gimmes. He earned it. He's first team," said Samuel, whose squad returned no wide receivers with any catches from last season. "He didn't know he was getting anything. He stuck around all summer to try and get better."

Williamson said he knew when he first arrived at Southeast there was a chance he would never earn a scholarship.

That would have been fine with him -- although he admitted that finally shedding his walk-on tag was nice.

"My dad, who has done so much for me, told me when we were looking for a place to play, that he would pay for my school, so I didn't need the scholarship," Williamson said. "But it makes me feel good, that I'm appreciated."

Appreciated by many

According to Southeast junior safety Kendall Magana -- Williamson's close friend, roommate and former high school teammate -- Williamson is appreciated by virtually all the Redhawks.

"Coach Samuel said this on his TV show the other day, and it's true, that anybody who knows Mike respects him," said Magana, a three-year starter for Southeast. "Whether or not he was on the field ... just his work ethic, his passion for the game. You won't find anybody with more.

"He's just a real leader. He's boisterous, a pep guy. He's going to motivate everybody. You have your vocal leaders and quiet leaders. He's a vocal leader."

Added Magana, who was a year behind Williamson in high school: "I know he was a little shocked [being named a captain], but really it wasn't a surprise to us."

Williamson acknowledged that he was surprised when he found out he would be one of the Redhawks' captains, including their only non-senior captain.

"Me and Kendall talked a lot about this, but I was very surprised," Williamson said. "I know I hadn't played much, but I was here all offseason and got to meet all the new guys.

"It's nice that my presence is felt in the locker room. To be voted a captain ... it's a great feeling."

Now a key player

For the first time in his Southeast career, Williamson does not have to be content with being respected by his teammates for what he does off the field.

He caught his first collegiate pass in the season opener at Division I-A Cincinnati. It went for 14 yards, his longest reception to date.

Williamson has since caught a pass in the last two games for the Redhawks (2-1), who open Ohio Valley Conference play Saturday at Samford.

Williamson, whose receptions have totaled 31 yards -- he is tied for third on the team with those three catches -- said the first collegiate pass he snared was special.

But perhaps more exciting was the 10-yarder he hauled in against Indiana State on Saturday that helped set up Southeast's only touchdown in a 13-10 victory.

"The first one, it was [a thrill], especially in that atmosphere," Williamson said. "But what meant more was the catch I had the last game, because it helped us get a win."

Even if he never catches another pass, Williamson said being on the field in key moments is reward enough (he also serves as Southeast's holder for field goals and extra points).

"What the weird thing is, in practice, I was so used to being on the scout team and not getting any reps," said Williamson, an exercise science major who said he would eventually like to either become a coach or a personal trainer. "Now they're calling plays for me in practice."

They're also calling him captain.

 
 

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