Cali Surfer Markell Staffieri Makes Big LB Splash

This little-known standout athlete spent his toddling years around the baseball diamonds of BYU – where his father coached, but he grew up on the sandy beaches of San Diego. A prep football star at Torrey Pines High School, he was offered scholarships from a good number of Div. 1 schools – including San Diego State and Hawaii – and he did what most aspiring gridiron stars would NOT do: He walked on at BYU with a hope and a prayer.

Markell Staffieri, a 6-3, 230-pound freshman linebacker, not only achieved his dream of playing football for BYU, but he came out of nowhere to break the Cougars starting lineup in their season-opener last Saturday against Notre Dame. Like all great human interest stories or struggle and sacrifice, Staffieri only recorded one sack, but he was barely an inch from a second during the Cougars' unlikely win over the Fighting Irish.

"I grew up here in Provo. My dad coached baseball at BYU so I've got Cougar blood. I've always dreamed of playing here at BYU. I moved to California when I was nine-years-old and grew up in San Diego," Staffieri said.

"I got recruited by Hawaii and a lot of Ivy League schools – Cornell, Dartmouth – and San Diego State. I couldn't go to San Diego State," Staffieri chuckled. "I couldn't play against the Cougars; there's no way. I couldn't be on the other side of the ball against the Cougars."

Staffieri earned all-league, all-CIF and all-county honors as a linebacker at Torrey Pines and led the county in yards-per-touch with a 9.7 average. With his father's influence, he was also an All-Tournament North County selection in baseball as well as a two-time San Diego Union Tribune All-CIF Academic Athlete selection.

"I was recruited by BYU, but things just weren't right, I guess," he said. No matter. Staffieri considered it a minor setback and refused to let it deter him from a lifelong dream of suiting up in Cougar blue.

Sporting a constant smile and a sunny laid-back California disposition, Staffieri told, "I just knew this was where I wanted to be; that it would be the best opportunity for me. I just love the mountains, I love the Gospel (LDS Church) environment up here as well, so I came back home."

Staffieri's persistence and patience paid off. He redshirted in 2001 and then opted to serve an LDS mission, returning in time to participate in spring practices this year. Between then and now, he more than proved himself to BYU coaches, earning a coveted scholarship prior to the season to go with his starting assignment against a team from the storied Notre Dame program.

"I remember on my mission and people were talking about they (BYU) never play Notre Dame. I was thinking wouldn't it be great to go to South Bend and play against them some day. Well, to get that chance and then to actually start against them was a blessing. It was nice," Staffieri said with a wide smile.

Recalling his sack of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, he said, "Oh man, it was gift wrapped. I just came through clean and no one even touched me. It was a good feeling though. My first college game was against Notre Dame and I got a sack. I just missed one at the end of the game, too. I kind of wish I had that one back, but it was a great feeling."

An excited Staffieri admitted, "I had butterflies the first series, but then after that I kind of figured out it's the same game but with a different group of guys on the other side of the ball. It was pretty exciting for me."

Now fully immersed as a student of defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall's swarm defense, Staffieri says he is having the time of his life. "It's hard. I still make some mistakes and I've got to get better at it. It's a fun defense and you only learn through application, basically. But you gotta do a lot of reading on the run and reacting, but I just love the defense." The "effort" demanded by Mendenhall of all his young charges was the least of Staffieri's challenges. "The mentality and the hard work effort is something I've had from just about every coach I had growing up. It was a perfect transition for me and it opened up a lot of doors. I'm getting there. I still got a lot of stuff to learn but I've also got a lot of time too," he said.

He also commented the example and motivation he receives from teammates. "They're great inspirations for me. I knew Brady (Poppinga) when I was redshirting. I always looked up to him as a great leader and motivator. Cameron (Jensen) is a great leader and those are two guys you can learn a lot of things from. I would just watch what they do; how they react to stuff and try to mirror that in my own play," Staffieri concluded.

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