Marquis Spruill will start for the Syracuse University football team for the 42nd time Saturday, as many as any linebacker in the nation, when the 2-3 Orange plays North Carolina State at 3:30 p.m. in Raleigh, N.C.
Not bad for a guy who struggled to get playing time in high school and graduated without a single scholarship offer from a Division I program.
I just got in here and wanted to play ball, said Spruill, who is tied with East Carolinas Derrell Johnson for most career starts at linebacker in the country.
I guess its good that Ive been able to start every game in my career, but I dont really think about it. Im just playing the game.
Spruill a 6-foot-1, 221-pound senior captain said that he played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore at Hillside High School in New Jersey.
His play as a junior and senior attracted the attention of just one major college football program Temple but he was never offered a scholarship.
My high school wasnt really big on football, Spruill said. I got looks. I thought I was going to Temple, they came and made visits and invited me to games and the whole nine, but they never offered me anything.
I really wanted to stay involved with football so I pressed on forward and went to prep school, he added.
Spruill paid partial tuition to play at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where he played for a single season in which his team went 8-3.
Spruill then made his way to SU, and was immediately inserted as a starter.
Hes been there ever since and started at all three linebacker spots.
Spruill is SUs active career leader with 205 tackles, including 31½ for a loss, which ranks seventh on the schools all-time list.
He ranks second on the team this season with 27 tackles, including five for loss.
Spruill was elected as a captain this offseason by his teammates among his proudest accomplishments, he said.
It means that they respect me and theyll follow me, Spruill said. I wasnt always the leader type. When I first got here, I was just trying to play football, trying to learn and play football and live the college life. They tried to push it and I just wasnt ready for that at that point in time.
Spruill said that new linebackers coach Clark Lea urged him to take charge of the defense when he arrived this spring.
Hes talked to me a lot about it and he expressed that this team needs that guy, Spruill said. They need that guy that they can follow, that guy they can respect and listen to, and I ended up being that guy. I feel so proudly that Ive done things the right way.
Spruill was arrested in December last year for an incident with Syracuse police and sat for much of SUs Pinstripe Bowl victory over West Virginia. It was just the second game of Spruills career in which he didnt start.
Spruill was charged with grabbing a police officer during a large scuffle outside of a house party, but has repeatedly said it was unintentional as he was trying to round up his teammates.
SU players have publicly defended Spruill since the incident.
Before, I didnt want all that pressure on me, and I didnt want guys to look at me for that example because I felt like I was still a little immature and I really didnt do things the right way, little things as far as being late here or there, Spruill said. I just didnt want to be that guy that people looked up to, but after a while I got act my together and along came coach Lea, and he just pushed me forward, and now we got this thing going.
Freshman running back and kick returner George Morris II will miss Saturdays game with an upper-body injury. Classmate Devante MacFarlane is expected to take over his duties.
Special teams player and backup fullback Travon Burke is also out with an upper-body injury.
SU coach Scott Shafer and North Carolina State offensive coordinator Matt Canada coached together at Northern Illinois from 1998-2003.
Shafer has also worked with NC State coaches Mike Uremovich at NIU. Shafer coached NC State wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson (a quarterback at NIU) and worked with special teams coordinator Clayton White at Stanford in 2007.
Its kind of weird. We used to text each other three or four times a week during the season, Hey. Hows it going? Good luck. And now we dont talk anymore. Its kind of sad, to be honest with you. But great respect for those guys and looking forward to the matchup, Shafer said.
SPREADING IT AROUND
SU boasts 18 different receivers that have caught at least one pass this season, which is tied for the fourth most in the nation.
UCLA leads the way with 21 while Clemson and Texas-San Antonio each possess 19 players with a reception.
Ashton Broyld leads SU with 24 catches.
The offense is designed to really spread it around the field to the guys that are open. I know it seems so simple to break it down like that but it really is the truth Its not one of those deals where were trying to plan to get one guy seven or so touches a game, Shafer said.
Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers Syracuse University football for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.