NCAA / oklahoma
The Incredible Story of the Greatest Football Player You've Never Heard Of...
The Incredible Story of the Greatest Football Player You've Never Heard Of - Marcus Dupree I've wanted to tell the story of Marcus Dupree for sometime now. I first heard about his legend a few years back and I've found it to be utterly captivating and fascinating. I have to give credit to two incredible sources that I highly, highly recommend. First, the book, "The Courting of Marcus Dupree", by esteemed author Willie Morris. Second, the incredibly well-made ESPN 30 for 30 documentary film by Jonathan Hock, entitled, "The Best That Never Was". It is a fascinating film that tells the incredible story of Dupree and highly recommend watching it as soon as you finish this article. Now, on to the extraordinary story of the greatest football player that you've probably never heard of before... In case you've never heard of Marcus Dupree, let me start by saying his story is fascinating. Dupree was and according to many, including myself, still is the greatest running back in the history of high school football. He very well could of been the greatest college RB to ever play as well, but that is where his story took an unfortunate and unbelievable turn. Dupree's recruitment in the early 1980s captivated the nation. If you think today's world of recruiting is intense and the pressure insane, it is nothing compared to what this young man dealt with. In fact, Dupree's recruitment was such a huge deal that best-selling author Willie Morris re-located to Dupree's hometown of Philadelphia, MS, during the recruiting process, to write a book about the entire spectacle, entitled, "The Courting of Marcus Dupree". These were the 'wild west' days of recruiting, players were being offered cash, cars, homes for families, even an oil well for crying out loud. Everyone was doing it, and if one of the big-time programs of the era thought one school was doing something a bit shady to gain an advantage, they had no problem doing the same. Eric Dickerson received a gold Trans-Am during his recruitment (rumored to be from Texas A&M) and ultimately shocked everyone by choosing SMU, which led many to conclude that the Mustangs had snuck in at the last second and "sweetened the pot" enough to steal Dickerson. In fact, it would end up being SMU and their brazen way of breaking NCAA violations repeatedly that would eventually put the entire problem in the forefront. And ultimately, it led to the SMU football program being taken out back to the woodshed as they received the "death penalty" and had the football program disbanded for two years. It was catastrophic. This was the background to college football in the late 1970s and early 1980s as Marcus Dupree took high school football by storm, from one of the most unlikely places in the country. If Philadelphia, Mississippi rings a bell, it was the site of one of the most infamous instances of senseless violence that encompassed the Civil Rights era of the late 1950s and 1960s. It was the place where two white civil rights workers from New York and one young African American man went missing in 1964 as they were working to get blacks registered to vote. It was hostile territory, and ultimately the three met a brutal death at the hands of the local kkk. The community had no desire to partake in the federal investigations, and the local courts did not do much in terms of justice. It was a town that Martin Luther King Jr. once called the worst he had ever seen. This little sleepy town of app. 7,900, with its scorned history, located deep in the backcountry of Mississippi provides the setting for this epic story. Dupree was born and raised in Philadelphia and from the first time he picked up a football his friends could tell that he had special skill. There were rumors already growing before he got to high school about the 8th grader that could start on the varsity. Dupree was already bigger, faster, and stronger than most of the high schoolers, and when the coaches got a look at him as a Freshman, it was clear to them that he already was the biggest, most-talented kid on the field. Dupree played primarily as a kick returner, receiver, and occasional running back as a freshman. The first time he touched the ball, in his very first varsity game, he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the legend of Marcus Dupree was born. Nobody had ever seen someone so big (Dupree was 6'3" 223 pounds), who could move so fast. You couldn't arm tackle him, he would go through about 10 tear-away jerseys per game. He moved so effortlessly that it appeared the defense would be able to catch him, but he just coasted away from opponents, gliding his way to the endzone. He piled up 12 TDs as a freshman, 5 scores as a receiver, and another 7 as a kick and punt returner. His effortless stride reminds me of Eric Dickerson, and his speed and power were unmatched for someone of his overall size. It became abundantly clear, early in Dupree's high school career, that those in Philadelphia had something truly special on their hands. They had a full-blown superstar in their midst, and by the time Dupree's senior season rolled around in 1981, he had become the most sought-after recruit in history. Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraksa, USC, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Michigan, USC and UCLA were just a few of the plethora of marque programs that wanted Dupree. Literally EVERY SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY wanted Marcus. His recruitment was so intense that one of Oklahoma's top assistants in Lucoius Selmon, spent six weeks in Philadelphia, courting Dupree on a daily basis. Selmon said of Dupree, "I didn't need to write anything down, all I had to do was call the coaches in Norman and tell them this kid is the most impressive athlete I've ever seen. We had to have him." The phone would ring not-stop all day long. Coaches from around the country, boosters from different schools, promises galore. Lou Holtz, Barry Switzer, Fred Akers, and Terry Donahue were just a few of the marque coaches that would perch on the Dupree's front porch, waiting for their crack to woo the most prized recruit in the history of football. Meanwhile, all Dupree did on the field was rush for 2,550 yards as a Junior in 1980. He added 34 total ttouchdowns - 25 rushing and 9 on kick returns. His senior season of 1981, was even more epic as he tallied 2,955 rushing yards and broke the legendary Herschel Walker's national high school record for touchdowns with 87 total for his career. Dupree tallied a truly remarkable 7,355 yards rushing in his high school career, basically over 3 seasons, as he spent the majority of his freshman season at receiver. After a dominating high school career, the likes of which had never been seen before, Dupree was finally ready to make his decision. By the end of 1981, he had narrowed his list down to Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA, and the local dark horse, Southern Miss. Hattiesburg was just a two-hour drive from Philadelphia, and would allow Dupree's family to be able to see him play, while allowing him to be close to his family. He had never really been outside of Mississippi until the recruiting process, and many viewed Southern Miss as having a legitimate chance of landing him. As his unprecedented recruitment came to an end, Dupree visited Texas first and offered a verbal commitment at the conclusion of the visit. The Longhorns had flown-in former Heisman winner Earl Campbell to greet Dupree and show him around. His mother encouraged him to take his visit to Oklahoma, since he had earned it, and to go and have fun, and then make his decision after returning from Norman. The Sooners had heard about the Longhorns showing of star-power and flew former Heisman-winner and NFL All-Pro Billy Sims to Philadelphia by private plane to wow Dupree. The grandiose gesture seemed to work as Marcus came away impressed with Sims, in-particular his huge gold watch, and ultimately left Texas at the altar to commit to Oklahoma instead. Akers has always been suspicious of what swayed Dupree to Oklahoma, and has wondered if someone else ultimately had something to do with his decision. Dupree's uncle, Curly, was always described as a 'shadowing, background figure' in the negotiations for landing Marcus. While no one truly knows who - and to what extent - of those close to Marcus influenced his decision, he was under pressure from certain family members to make a monetary gain as quickly as possible. Through the recruiting process, Dupree became close with a minister involved with Southern Miss named Ken Fairley, who would become a type of father-figure to Marcus. Fairley says Dupree phoned him a few days after his Oklahoma announcement and told him he had made a big mistake. As it was, Dupree was headed to Oklahoma and head coach Barry Switzer. The Sooners were a national power and were known for Switzer's punishing and potent triple option rushing attack. The Oklahoma coaches quickly realized that Dupree was the best player on the field during his first practice. Not completely sure how to manage this unheard of talent, Switzer and his coaches were about to embark on an utter mis-management of their most prized recruit... Instead of praising the impressive display that Dupree put on in his first scrimmage, Switzer instead ripped him for running in the wrong lanes, and when he occasionally missed an assignment. As Switzer later explained in interviews, "People wait 3 years at Oklahoma just to get in the huddle, and this kid was better than all of them his first day on the field. You have to be careful with how you handle that with the other players." That may be true, but discouraging a kid that was truly NFL-ready as a college freshman, was probably not the best idea. As it turned out, the Sooners would dump their prized wishbone triple-option scheme after a slow start to the season, for the single-I featured-back formation in the fourth game of the season. Dupree stepped in and immediately shined, scoring his first collegiate touchdown on a 63-yard scamper against Texas. Texas coach Fred Akers remembered the moment, saying when it happened, "you kind of just had to accept it and say, well, this is going to happen." He would go on to provide several highlight-reel runs against the likes of Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas State, and Nebraska on his way to being named a 2nd Team All-American. In addition, he garnered 1st Team All-Big 8 honors, and was named the conference's "Newcomer of the Year". Marcus Dupree's Freshman stats at Oklahoma: 146 att./ 1,144 yards/ 7.8ypc/ 13TD All of that despite not starting until the seventh game of the season against in-state rival Oklahoma State. He went on to torch Arizona State for a Fiesta Bowl record 249 yards that still stands today, but came back from holiday break noticeably heavier. Switzer publically criticized him and basically blamed the 32-21 loss on Dupree, stating, "had he been in shape he would have run for 400 yards and we would have won the game". While the criticism may have been merited, blaming the loss on Dupree publically was not a smart move and dug a rift between the player and coaches at the very conclusion of the 82' season. The ridge between player and coaches widened during the summer of 83' and by the time Dupree's sophomore campaign got on it's way, he had grown sick of the coaches' constant ridicule. The coaches took Dupree's quiet despondency as a lack of caring, and it led to one of the oddest scenes you will ever hear of. His much-hyped and anticipated sophomore season seemed troubled from the beginning, as he only rushed for 369 yards in four games while being nagged by injuries. Following the fifth game of the season at Texas, a game in which Dupree suffered a fairly severe concussion, he found himself ill and disoriented, and disappeared. The Oklahoma Sooners actually lost track of their star player following a road game to rival Texas. Could you imagine that happening today? It was unbelievable and was a national leading news story. What happened to Marcus Dupree? Following the Texas game he felt completely lost and felt the need to return home. Once he got back to Mississippi, he made the decision that he didn't want to go back to Norman, OK ever again, and he never did. He surfaced about a week following the Texas game in Mississippi and announced that he was transferring from OU to Southern Miss, effective immediately. What Fairley or anyone else had failed to inform Dupree of were the strict transfer rules in place at the time by the NCAA. Dupree would not only forfeit his eligibility for the remainder of the 1983 season, but the entire 1984 season as well. Upon finding out the news, he was crushed. He and Fairley looked into his options and after a brief stint at Southern Miss, Dupree ultimately left school and went to the USFL. He signed a big contract for the times, and although was injured much of the 1984 season, still had a productive season for the New Orleans Breakers. The team moved to Portland, Oregon, in the off-season. Dupree started the 85' season-opener against Arizona. He had a bad feeling heading into the game that he was going to get injured and was not keen on playing that day, but ultimately suited up and scored a TD. Early in the second half, however, his pre-game premonition unfortunately proved true, he blewout his left knee. The severe injury ended Dupree's USFL career right before he turned 21. Had he remained at Oklahoma for all four years, he would have been a senior on the Sooners 85' National Championship squad. It was a cruel, sad, unfortunate fate for an incredably- talented, once-in-a-lifetime athlete. Dupree's story didn't end there however, as ultimately his tale was one of redemption and revival. Despite what could have been, Dupree bounced-back after a four-year hiatus from football and ultimately tried out for the NFL in 1990. He was given an invitation to join the Los Angeles Rams, and ultimately played parts of two seasons in LA, rushing for 251 yards and one score between limited work in the 1990-1991 seasons. While Dupree's tale is one of what could have been but was lost forever in a flash, it ultimately is one of determination, redemption, and healing. Afterall, it was a young African American boy from the heart of the violence of the civil rights era of the south, that allowed a scared and conflicted town to finally heal. The once torn and violently divided town united behind a once-in-a-lifetime phenom, who for a brief moment of time, brought a bright, positive light to a community long-marred in darkness. It was a story of perhaps who could have been the greatest running back to ever play the game. Sports writers from the area compared Dupree to Jim Brown playing against a bunch of high schoolers - and that was already as a freshman! Chances are you probably haven't heard of Marcus Dupree - I hadn't until a few years ago - but I've been captivated by his story ever since. I only touched on a portion of his remarkable story, there were numerous characters, and incredible circumstances galore that I didn't even get too. In the end, all you really need to know about Marcus Dupree is that his younger brother Reggie suffered from terrible debilitating cerebral palsy, and Marcus did all he could to make sure Reggie could be in the spotlight - he ran so hard because his brother could not, and that determination made him nearly impossible to bring down.