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Meet the rookies: Marist grad glad to be back in Atlanta
Rookie Falcons cornerback William Middleton tosses a football during a recent workout at team headquarters in Flowery Branch. - photo by Times file photo

A two-sport star at Marist, William Middleton left high school with a state championship in football and baseball in his possession. After spending four years at Furman, Middleton is back in Atlanta playing for his hometown Falcons. Recently the fifth-round draft pick sat down with Times sports reporter Jonathan Zopf to talk about playing for his hometown team, giving up baseball and what it’s like to be known as a small cornerback.

Question: You went to high school at Marist, what’s it like playing for your hometown team?

Answer: I couldn’t ask for a better situation. I think I’ve been blessed to grow up in Atlanta, play high school football in Atlanta, go away to South Carolina for school, but to come back and play for your hometown team I couldn’t ask for anything else.

Q: Did you dream of being drafted by the Falcons, or was that not even on your radar on draft day?

A: I came down here and did an area workout and they came to the Texas vs. the nation game, and I spoke with them up there, but I never knew where I was going to get drafted. I spoke with so many teams and took six visits so it was really up in the air as far as where I was going to go. When I got that phone call I was more than ecstatic.

Q: Now I know you also played baseball in high school, do you miss it?

A: (laughing) I do, I do. It’s a lot easier on the body for one thing, but you know baseball is an individual sport and a team sport at the same time, but it’s an individual sport more than anything. Football, everybody has to be doing the same thing at the same time in order for one play to work. I just love the idea of camaraderie and team work.

Q: Was it hard to give up baseball?

A: Um, at first it was, at first it was. But when football became more fruitful and profitable there was no hesitation with that.

Q: You won a state title in football and baseball, which means more to you?

A: That’s a tough question. They both mean about the same. I put in a lot of work in everything I do whether it be studying or playing football or baseball, so as far as state championships go, they’re about the same.

Q: You’re a 5-foot-10 cornerback, how do you deal with the criticisms of being too small?

A: Unless you’re 6-2, 215 at corner, they’re always going to say you’re small. But the things I do to overcome that is I put on a lot of weight and being physical. So I have the quickness of a little corner but the physicality of a big one.

Q: You don’t see too many 6-2 cornerbacks, why is that?

A: Most of the 6-2 guys play receiver (laughing). But to be honest I don’t know. I know of a few of them that played at the bigger schools in the Big 10 and Pac 10, but you really don’t see too many 6-2 cornerbacks.

Q: You didn’t go to one of those big schools, you went to a smaller school up the road at Furman. You hear all the time about adjustments from Division I to the NFL, is it harder to go from a small school like Furman to this?

A: Nah, I mean football is football. At Furman, we played Clemson, UNC, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, so we saw big school talent. We competed with big school talent. And in I-AA, especially in the SoCon Conference, there’s about six or seven players on active NFL rosters. So, like I said football is football. The one thing that is different is the development of the plays in the NFL is a lot faster, but the speed of the game is about the same.

Q: Is there any receiver you’re looking forward to going up against this year?

A: (laughing) Any one that’s lined up against me. Nah, you know T.O. (Terrell Owens) playing for the Bills and growing up watching him in high school and all through college, and then I’m lining up against him on Sundays. I look forward to that. But I still have to do my job and I can get his autograph after the game.

Q: Obviously you have a couple good receivers on your team in Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, how much has lining up against those guys helped you out?

A: Both Roddy and Jenk are phenomenal receivers and phenomenal athletes. During mini camp I went up against Roddy a lot, and he’s the bigger more physical type of receiver and he taught me if you’re going to press than you gotta be more physical. Jenkins is a great guy. He’s long and has great hands and uses his body to get position very well. Just learning against guys like that is going to help me in the long run when you come to the game on Sundays. I couldn’t have asked for better guys to be playing against than Jenk or Roddy.

Q: A couple weeks ago, Coach Mike Smith said that the cornerback battle was one of the toughest in camp, what are you doing to separate yourself from everybody?

A: Just learning my material and all that stuff will take care of itself and pan out. The only thing I can do is be responsible for myself and make sure I know my assignments.

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