Almost exactly two decades ago, Philadelphia, Mississippi was the focus of the college football world, as Marquez's father Marcus was easily the most highly touted high school running back in the nation. "Dad was one of the guys that got to stand in the tower with ‘Bear' Bryant," Marquez explained. "So he remembered that. He went to Oklahoma, but he respected Alabama."
Every year brings the stories of another group of heralded prep stars, and frenzied battles among the big schools for the top talent in the country are certainly nothing new. But back in the early ‘80s the fight over Marquez's father was something else again, prompting nationwide attention and ultimately a best-selling book, The Courtship of Marcus Dupree. "I probably would have ended up coming to Alabama," the elder Dupree explained. "But I knew Coach Bryant wasn't going to be here."
With Coach Bryant retiring after the 1982 season, Dupree's assessment proved correct. But his own career at Oklahoma didn't last much longer when Dupree left the Sooners before he graduated, lured away by the money of pro football.
Unfortunately, a severe knee injury cut short what was an incredibly promising career. But Dupree certainly doesn't regret having had more time to spend helping to raise his sons. "Marquez was a big Mississippi State fan until we came over here in '99 when State was ranked No. 8 in the nation," Dupree related. "I kept telling him, ‘Marquez, Alabama has tradition like Oklahoma. The fans are great, and the stadium is just electrifying on game day. Once you walk through that tunnel with the rest of the team for warm-ups, it's not the same as going to Mississippi State or somewhere else. The fans are crazy. You're going to feel it, and you're going to know that you need to be playing right here.'
"Alabama whipped Mississippi State that day, and since that time he's been Crimson Tide."
As a native of Mississippi, his early allegiance to the Bulldogs was understandable. But after visiting, the son quickly fell in love with Tuscaloosa. "I really liked it over here," Marquez said. "I liked the atmosphere, and I liked the way the people treated me. I liked the way the fans love their football. I like Coach Franchione's attitude--his discipline. And I really like the coaches he brought with him. Of course I knew the last two years he had the No. 1 rusher in the nation."
Franchione is noted as an excellent recruiter, but there was no doubt that his reputation for running the football played a key role in impressing the Duprees. "I'd say I'm about the same as my Dad, as far as speed," Marquez said. "I'll start at tailback, and I think I'll have a chance to play. It will depend on who's willing to work. Who wants it the most? I think I'm a combination player. I think I bring a lot of things to the table. I just use what I need the most. I'm quick, but I also have some strength. I'm at 218 now."
"He's fast, but he needs to get his upper body stronger," added the older Dupree. "Marquez can catch the football. He's played baseball, so he has good hand/eye coordination. Right now he just needs to get used to the speed of the game. The SEC is one of the toughest conferences in the country. He's been blessed with a lot of natural God-given talent."
As a high school senior Marquez Dupree rushed for 1,305 yards and 17 touchdowns. He played one snap on defense and turned that play into a 77-yard interception return for a TD. Dupree was a three-time All-State pick and earned high school All-America honors in 1999 and 2000. As a junior, despite missing half the season with a knee injury, Dupree still rushed for 890 yards and 13 scores. He once scored 6 touchdowns in a game. He also participated in track, turning in a 10.3 time in the 100-meter dash.
With a famous father having played the same position, comparisons between the two are inevitable. "Marquez does remind me some of me," Dad Dupree acknowledged. "The way he runs--he has that same long stride. A lot of people don't think he's running hard, but then he just goes by people. Coach Pope (Alabama's receivers coach who also played for Oklahoma) looked at him and told me he has that same long, gliding stride like me."
With Sooner fans still talking about the father as one of the best tailbacks to play for Oklahoma, it was understandable that the son would want to forge a new legacy elsewhere. And Tuscaloosa is actually relatively close to the Dupree home. "We're about two hours away," Marquez said. "My family can easily drive over to games. But that wasn't really a factor in my decision. I just wanted to go where I could win."
"It's all about success," added the Dad. "Alabama has a first-class organization, first-class coaches. I know some members of the coaching staff, and they're all about winning. We've already got plenty of Oklahoma colors at home. Now we'll just trade for a different shade of red."
Of course football is the ultimate equalizer, and when young Marquez steps on the field to compete nobody will be asking his last name. "I've been training as hard as I can, getting ready to play some football," he explained. "I don't worry too much about the football, but I definitely expect it to be hot. Of course I grew up in Mississippi, so hot is nothing new to me. But the competition will be. I'm looking forward to a lot of hard work."
Interestingly, in 2002 Alabama and Oklahoma begin a two-game series, matching two of the most storied programs in all of college football--and also presenting the elder Dupree with a conflict of loyalties. "I talked to Jackie Shipp (former Tide D-Line coach now on the Oklahoma staff) when Marquez signed," the father related. "And Shipp told me ‘Now you know he's going to play Oklahoma.' I thought he said that he told their coaches to take that game off the schedule. Shipp said, ‘I know what kind of talent is down there (in Tuscaloosa). We don't need that game.'"
"That game will be something different," the elder Dupree said. "But I'd like to see it. With the nucleus of players Alabama has right now, I'm predicting that if they score 20 points a game they'll win a national championship."