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Football: Unique path to Cajuns–White didn’t play high school football

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, October 30, 2013

NCAA Football: UL Lafayette at Arkansas State

UL defensive lineman Marquis White (93), shown here chasing Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy (5) during the Cajuns’ win last Tuesday, took a unique path to be a Cajun starter after not playing any high school football. / Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports

Not eligible academically, and more enamored with basketball anyway, Marquis White did not play high school football.

Not a lick.

Not one down.

But White wanted to escape negative influences in his hometown of Orlando, and after realizing hoops wasn’t going to take him where he really wanted to be the now 6-foot-5, 315-pounder decided to give the gridiron a try.

At least so far, it seems to be working out.

With starting defensive lineman Christian Ringo down with a high ankle sprain, White made his first start as a Ragin’ Cajun in last week’s 23-7 Sun Belt Conference win at Arkansas State. And he’s expected to start again when 1-7 independent New Mexico State visits 5-2 UL on Saturday at Cajun Field.

It’s a far cry from his first days at North Carolina Tech, a prep school that introduced the football neophyte to the game’s many intricacies.

Some of the simple stuff too.

“It’s been a process,” said White, who is on his sixth school in six years – and in his first season at UL.

“I’ve (come) a long way since my prep school. I didn’t even know how to get in a stance in prep school.”

Wearing a helmet. Putting on pads. Playing in the outdoor heat as opposed to an air-conditioned gym.

White wasn’t accustomed to any of that.

But he started learning it at North Carolina Tech, which he wound up at only after making some life-altering decisions.

“Everybody just thinks Orlando, Disney World, Islands of Adventure, all that,” White said.

His Orlando real world, however, was a different sort of adventure altogether.

While attending Dr. Phillips High, White couldn’t get the 2.0 grade-point-average minimum needed to be eligible to play sports.

Not even his beloved basketball.

So heading into his senior year, White decided to change schools.

He found a new academic home at Olympia High in Orlando. He took online classes to help become eligible. And he left behind some of what was dragging him down, including a setting where his size brought mostly unwanted attention.

“It just wasn’t a good environment for me to be around,” White said of his old surroundings. “I didn’t want that lifestyle of selling drugs, all that.

“I wasn’t on the right track then, and I turned my life around, pretty much. … More than anything, I just wanted to make my mom proud, at the end of the day.”

Sheila White’s only child understood he needed to make a break, and that he wasn’t going to get one from elsewhere if he wasn’t willing to take the first step himself.

“People used to always tell me, ‘You don’t need to be around here very long. You need to be on somebody’s football field, or on somebody’s court,’ ” White said.

“My neighborhood, and hanging around friends that really (weren’t) going anywhere – they’re still my friends, but I see I had to go a different route.”

So he did.

After playing basketball one season at Olympia, however, interest was received only from NCAA Division II schools or smaller.

White had higher aspirations.

His choices were college or a dead-end job, and he didn’t want the latter.

He also wanted to go to an NCAA Division I program, and figured prep-school football was his best bet for getting to one – even though size (he was around 6-4, 290, at the time) was the biggest thing he had going, and even though hoops was his true love.

“Back then,” White said, “I just swore I was a basketball player.”

Not anymore.

“He has a lot of athletic ability, and thought he was gonna play basketball,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said. “But I think his size and demeanor are more apt to football.”

At North Carolina Tech, White started on the path to becoming a bona fide football player.

The University of South Florida took notice, and he signed with the NCAA Division I Bulls in 2011.

White redshirted that season, figuring greater things were ahead at the Tampa school. He didn’t really know schemes or formations when he arrived at USF, but thought a year spent watching from the sideline would help.

“I knew I had potential,” White said. “I could have played physically. But they didn’t think I was ready mentally.”

As it turned out, grades got the better of White at South Florida too.

He had to transfer to a junior college, and played last season at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he was voted the team’s most-improved and most-athletic lineman.

UL made the again academically eligible White a late signee this year, and – with nine tackles through seven games to date – his first start came after Ringo was injured in a win at Western Kentucky.

“He’s probably ahead of where we expected him to be, making plays and just being tough. He’s got good size, and just plays hard,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a tough kid when he wants to be. The thing I tell him is he still hasn’t played all four quarters yet. But when he wants to be, he can be very effective.”

White is the first to acknowledge that, while playing well, there is ample room for improvement – especially considering he started football from scratch barely more than three short years ago.

“I think I’ve caught up,” he said. “But I can always get better. I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential.”

Being a couple of states away from Florida, White figures, can only aid the cause.

It’s why he was willing and eager to make UL his current home, the latest in a list of different ones every time the football calendar flips.

“I think that helps me a lot, because I don’t have to worry about … stuff back home,” White said. “I can just be focused on what I need to do.”