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Sitting down with William Middleton

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If you would have asked William Middleton three years ago where he would be today, you might be surprised with his answer.  The Marist, Georgia native would be preparing for his second year of medical school.  Fortunately for the Jaguars, playing at Furman didn't hamper his chances of scouts seeing his talents.

Middleton was a fifth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2009 and the Jaguars signed him off the Falcons practice squad on September 21 and he remains there.  He finished the season with 12 special teams tackles in 12 games and was named AFC South Special Teams Player of the Year by ESPN.com.

I sat down with Middleton on Saturday following a steamy special teams practice.

First off, how are you dealing with the heat?

The special teams practice was hot.  Between Luke Richesson and his team and Mike Ryan and his team along with our position coaches, they are doing a great job of keeping us hydrated.  Jack (Del Rio) is doing a great job of making sure we get the appropriate breaks and then when we come in Luke is pushing the cold tub and the fluids.  It's very hot but the Jaguars and their staff are on top of their game as far as getting us back and ready for every practice.

You spent all of training camp with the Atlanta last year and then four days with Tampa Bay before going back to the Falcons and ended up on the Jaguars roster for the final 15 weeks.  Are you a little more comfortable now since you've been here for nearly a year?

I wouldn't necessarily say it's a comfort because you can never be comfortable.  When you are comfortable you become complacent. It's more of having a little more understanding of how this situation works. I know you are evaluated every day whether it be in a meeting, on the field or just eating lunch. I understand my situation here is a gift from God and an opportunity from Gene Smith and the rest of the staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  I feel like I have to put my best foot forward every day.  If you want to say comfort, then that's where I get the chance to come in here and prove myself again and get the season started off on a good foot.

As a rookie, you really played special teams early and then started seeing action at cornerback.  How would you define your role this year? I know you take a lot of pride in your work on special teams.

I do.  Special teams is another snap of football that can change the game, as we saw last year a couple times. As far as what position I'm going to play or what my role will be on defense, all of that will pan out as long as I continue to work hard. I like to know my role and do my job on defense and also be a major contributor on special teams.

It has to be comforting for you to see so many players in this locker room that came from small schools like yourself.  I've talked with several of those guys and they have always talked about the stigma that goes along with not playing Division-I. Was that frustrating?

Based on the school you come from, the size of the school, the guy at Florida, Clemson or Georgia thirty minutes down the street, they will get more looks than the guy at Furman. Gene (Smith) knows how to judge talent and he brought me here as well as the other guys from small schools like Rashean (Mathis), Derek Cox and Rashad Jennings. We know how to play ball and those guys have an eye for talent. All of that is done and gone. I'm not a rookie anymore so we play at the same level. Now I'm going against a receiver who went to maybe Virginia Tech or running down and trying to tackle a guy that went to Miami.  It's all behind us right now. We all just have our NFL logo for the teams we are playing for.

When did you realize at Furman that you might have the talent for the next level?

I always kind of knew, but I wasn't banking on it.  That's why I applied to medical school and took my MCAT.  I applied to Medical College of Georgia, University of Pittsburgh where my sister attends medical school, Emery and Morehouse.

When did you apply?
My junior year. I was already contingent on going to medical school and then some scouts had come by and told me I had some talent after the season. After my senior year I got a lot of interest and was an All-American and then I had agents coming at me. I then knew I had a legitimate shot at going. I didn't get a Combine invite so I prepared for my pro day and went to the Texas vs. the Nation Game and all of sudden before you knew it I was getting a call from the Falcons getting drafted in the fifth round.

Is medical school still something you want to pursue following your career?

Yes. It's something I will do depending on how long I play in the league.  Worste comes to worse, I will take the MCAT over again.  Medical school is always going to be there.

It's obvious here the importance of special teams with head coach Jack Del Rio.  The Jaguars had one of the NFL's best in 2009 and added a Pro Bowl special teams player in Kassim Osgood in free agency.  How good can this unit be?

With Kassim and Monty (Owens) leading the way, kind of showing me how it's done and the standard we set, you are either with the standard or you are not with us at all.  With having them and me playing off of them, it allows our special teams to reach uncharacteristic goals of any team in the NFL.  Russ (Purnell) and Nate (Kaczor) know that and they are very excited for the season.

You were signed off the Falcons practice squad so the rule states you had to be on the Jaguars 53-man roster for at least three weeks.  Did you have any idea you would be there for the remainder of the year?

Obviously I was on edge every week last year. I didn't let it stop me.  It was in the back of my mind and that is what motivated me to go out and continue to push for more playing time, get more playing time, get more opportunities and capitalize on those opportunities.  It wasn't something like I can't screw up because I won't be here.  It was more like having the opportunity and make the best of it.

Gene Smith has openly said that the players on the roster are evaluated following each practice and game.  As a player how important is it to not take a play off?

You can't take a play off.  The play you take off, aside from the fact that it might be a big play, that might be the play someone is looking at.  They might say, 'Why is this guy jogging on this play and then running down the next?' Gene said all 32 teams are evaluating you every preseason game including, your own. He has set up some big opportunities for everybody on this squad to get evaluated especially when we go down to Atlanta. They will be looking and then we will start the preseason games and other teams will be looking as well.  I think with every opportunity comes a chance and you have to take advantage of that opportunity, be grateful for that chance and don't be scare

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