The High Demand
Though David Marrero is small of build, at 5'10" and 179 pounds, his unending list of scholarship offers is as strong a testament as you could imagine for a recruit. Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Auburn, Alabama, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, NC State, Boston College, Northwestern, West Virginia, Indiana, Purdue, Marshall - and of course Stanford and Notre Dame. Even more amazing is that these offers, plus many more, all came in the spring and very early summer before Marrero gave his initial commitment to Notre Dame. The offers came to a screeching halt thereafter, at the Marreros' request, though Michigan made a late play just in the past couple of weeks to offer and woo the Ft. Lauderdale speedster.
College recruiting has reached such an advanced stage these days that many top talents are offered on the merits of their junior year performances. Indeed, hundreds of offers are flowing out right now and will intensify in February to top juniors across the nation. But Marrero would not seem the likely candidate for such attention, given his somewhat limited role at St. Thomas Aquinas in that junior season. He picked up 580 yards, which frankly is a middling number for high school back, but consider that he racked up those yards on just 71 carries. That's a per-carry average north of eight yards, and he also scored better than once every five times he touched the ball.
Aquinas is a powerhouse program in Florida, stocked regularly with talent but more importantly guided by a senior-favored system. Marrero explains, "Even if a younger kid is better, the older kid will get the reps as long as he gets the job done." It was to be expected that he would see few carries that junior season, and college coaches were cognizant of that fact. But it was what he did with those carries that helped propel him to such a high profile position. "Every time I did get an opportunity, I made big plays. I had to take advantage of any opportunity," he states.
Those big plays were enough to put together an impressive junior highlight tape, which caught the attention that spring of college coaches across the nation, but it was a single day in April that landed him on the national map. Marrero was invited to the famed Nike Camp circuit held early that month in Miami, and there he dazzled with a camp-best 4.34 second 40-yard dash. That was the fastest time at what was thought to be the fastest camp in America. Size be damned, this burner was hot.
Though his time at that camp should have come as little surprise. As early as his sophomore year, Marrero won the county championship in the 100m dash, and to be the fastest man in Broward County says something powerful. His junior year, Marrero split his spring time between track and baseball and did not give much attention to his sprint training, yet he still finished 3rd in the state. His best time in the 100 meters last year was 10.51 second run, while his best time at 200 meters was 21.65 seconds. FYI, his personal goal this year is to break the school's all-time electronic 100m record of 10.39 seconds. Marrero shifted into track gear in December with his running training, though the official Florida track season does not start until late February.
The Aquinas senior is just happy to be running in any way, shape or form today, after an MCL sprain in the 6th game of his final high school football season sidelined him. He never carried the ball again, in a grand disappointment after a tremendous start to the year. In his five-plus games he gained 475 yards on 60 carries including seven scores, as well as one receiving touchdown and another on a punt return.
The Initital Recruitment
Returning to the recruiting story, Marrero had his pick from a list of schools that read like a top 25 ranking, but he firmly decided back in the spring on an exclusive pair of schools, offering academics and football. "It's never been anybody but Stanford and Notre Dame for me and my family - even back to the beginning," he offers.
The running back visited Stanford unofficially in May with his father, where he attended Junior Day and was impressed. But the next month, he made a swing through the Midwest including a stop in South Bend where the Notre Dame staff made a big splash of their own. Soon thereafter, he committed to Notre Dame in early July, giving the Irish their first commitment at a position of need at tailback. Stanford was reeling, needing backs at least as badly after striking out in the 2002 class, and whiffing on a student-athlete for which they had led much of the spring.
Marrero followed up his commitment by taking the earliest official visit to South Bend he could, in September. That visit ultimately provided the spark that fired his uncertainty about his early verbal commitment. "It all goes back to my visit in September, when I saw a lot of great things at Notre Dame," he explains. "But I had never seen anywhere else in that capacity, and I had some very uneasy feelings about my fit at Notre Dame. I wondered if this was the best place for me"
Returning to the scatback's early Cardinal interest, in the spring, the Stanford coaches had armed him with an admissions application, which was 4/5 finished at the time he committed to Notre Dame in July. "I felt I had done the vast majority of the the work, and it's a pretty lengthy application. I thought I owed it to myself to finish that up. You've done it, so send it in. It doesn't hurt to send it in," Marrero relates.
But he held that completed application for more than a month before he finally sent it in, and that began an insurance policy to bolster his options after the self-doubt initiated in September. But with his much-anticipated senior season staring him in the face, David Marrero wanted to try and push recruiting out of his mind as much as possible and focus on football. As he states, "Just play out the season and see if it blows over."
Come early November, he heard back from The Farm that his admissions application had been accepted, in the face of the warnings from the Notre Dame staff that told him about the "great difficulty in getting kids admitted at Stanford."
"I thought it was a great honor to get admitted," he recalls. "It was pretty good. I said 'thank you' and I appreciated that after all the work I put into [the application]. It was great to have this option if Notre Dame was not a place I wanted to be."
Aquinas had a somewhat early and unexpected end to their season, as they were bumped in the third round of the Florida state playoffs. Marrero and his teammates had played in the past three state championship games, so this 28-21 loss was an unseemly ending to their senior campaign. The 5'10" tailback made a partial return from his knee sprain in that game, though he was used just as a decoy on a few plays, with the plan of returning him to full action in the remaining playoff games. Those games never came for the stunned Raiders.
The Story Resumes
Marrero then asked himself the query he had posed back in September - had his doubts about Notre Dame blown over? "After the season ended, I still had other questions about my college choice," he admits. "I asked Coach Willingham if I could take a visit to Stanford, and for a while he said no. He said that wasn't how things worked."
A Notre Dame assistant coach told Marrero that a visit to Stanford would be treated as a decommitment from the Irish, but then a long heart-to-heart with Willingham at the start of the New Year begrudgingly allowed a trip. "We spent three hours on the phone," says Marrero of the famous call with the former Stanford head man. "I told him exactly how things were, and where I was."
The Ft. Lauderdale runner quickly set up an unofficial trip, at the Marreros' own cost, to send him and his mother out to California the first big recruiting weekend of January for the Cardinal (1/10). His father had seen the campus and coaches before, but this was a first look for mom, who grew up Catholic in the Midwest and had a lot of love for Tyrone Willingham and Notre Dame. The younger Marrero describes the visit and what he wanted to ascertain during the trip:
"I met a lot of great people and had great times at Stanford. But their 2-9 record this past season has always been in my head, and that played a key role. I expected to find the players negative about the program or their situation, but I found the exact opposite. Everybody was so excited, so ready to turn the program back around. They were all determined, and that to me was very comforting. It's all up to the players because the kids ultimately put points up on the board. My big question about Stanford was where is this program going? But that was answered for me. The coaches also told me I would have a big part in where this thing will go."
The very next weekend, Marrero and his mother tripped unofficially, again at their expense, to Notre Dame. And as was the case with his visit to Stanford, he made sure the other coaching staff was well aware of the trip before he took it.
"The value of these trips was so big," he elaborates. "I did the most research I could do. Stanford first really clicked for me on that trip. I felt so good out there - that it was the best fit for me. But if I felt the same way at Notre Dame, that would have ended the whole thing. I would have stuck with Notre Dame. The [second] trip was not comparative, just to see Notre Dame for what it is. But on that trip, I really didn't feel this was the place for me. Stanford was where my heart was, and you can't go away from your heart."
But the decision process was not so simple, and a tremendous amount of external pressure was weighing on the 18-year old. Not only did he have a weighty decision between two fantastic athletic and academic institutions, but he had a lot of background noise that was unwelcome. Phone calls and emails came nonstop through the process, particularly these past two months, from friends, acquaintances, extended family, friends from his father's work, recruiting services and other locals.
"A lot of people have had their own interests in mind in what they would tell me. They would slip in a not-so-subtle positive message about Notre Dame, while at face congratulating me on my commitment there. They would ask questions about Notre Dame, but give their own statements and influence hidden in those questions. But what if I don't feel good about it? They didn't know how I was thinking or how I'm feeling. I mean, people were still calling me just a week ago congratulating me on going to Notre Dame. It all created stress about doing exactly this - having to decommit from Notre Dame. And people kept asking me 'Why? Why? Why?' Someone would hear something from somebody and then ask me if it's true. Things were on the Internet all the time, and our phone was ringing off the hook."
The pressure on the Marrero home built to a crescendo during the holidays, when the questions and calls hit their peak. But the worst of it was that David's sister was getting married at that very moment. The family could not ask for more stress in their lives, compounded with the incessant outside queries and calls.
His immediate family was very supportive, though. "Nobody in my family has even had an opportunity like mine - to go to places like Stanford or Notre Dame. They were just ecstatic for me to have these choices. They supported me whatever my decision," he proudly relays about his home.
The Final Days
The Monday after that unofficial visit to South Bend, a decision was close at hand. Stanford associate head coach David Kelly was in town watching Cardinal punter commit Jay Ottovegio (Marrero's high school teammate and best friend) in an all-star game, and the Marreros invited head coach Buddy Teevens for an in-home visit tentatively that evening. But the Stanford coaches' visit was moved back to Tuesday evening, with Notre Dame head man Willingham in town Tuesday to see very recent committee Dwight Stephenson. The lead Irish visited Marrero at St. Thomas Aquinas that morning for one last push. "I was still confused," the recruit recalls. "What am I missing? I asked Coach Willingham and got his feedback on the program, including what he says they will do while he's there."
Teevens and Kelly came into the home hours later that evening, and Marrero again asked the poignant questions about the direction of the Stanford program. When the coaches departed late that night, a decision was yet to be handed out.
In the end the torment for David, the back and forth, was not only tearing at him but also making this an endless decision. Any time he might lean one way, he would be reminded of information from a parent or one of the schools' coaches that would sway him the other. In a world where you want to make the clean and perfect decision, there is no way to avoid angst and agony when choosing between two great options. The time will never come to make one option so clearly better than the other. And Marrero's search for that epiphany was hard to come by.
"Psychologically, this process has done a number on me," he says. "I've definitely been overthinking this for a while."
So how did he escape this emotional pit and come to a final decision? His father locked him in his room Wednesday night, at the suggestion of his high school coach George Smith, not to be released until he made a decision. "Coach told me to go in there, and sit down and think about what I want. Just set everything else aside and follow your heart. Then go to sleep and wake up with your decision. I did that and after 30 minutes I told myself this is what I have to do," Marrero recalls of his Stanford decision.
Thursday morning he woke up still firm with Stanford and told the coaches at St. Thomas Aquinas, but nobody else. The 24 hour delay for the official word to come out Friday was due to the simple fact that he could not reach Willingham on the phone. The Notre Dame head man was travelling that day to Los Angeles to meet with receiver recruit (and yet another head-to-head battle with Stanford) Mark Bradford, and did not answer his phone while visiting the wideout. Marrero finally reached Willingham and Teevens early Friday, completing the saga that lasted more than six months. He says that the Stanford decision was received with great disappointment by Willingham, who Marrero described as "classy but very disappointed." Teevens was understandably "very excited."
Willingham told Marrero then, "If your heart's going to be there, we don't want to have people at Notre Dame that don't want to be here. Go where your heart is." He wished his former recruit good luck and added that he looked forward to seeing him again when they met on the playing field in the future.
But is a recruiting story with as many twists and turns as this one really over?
"This is the end of the whole process," Marrero proclaims. "I'm ready to sign for Stanford in two weeks and be on my way."
A Cardinal and White Future
Putting this extraordinary recruiting story behind and looking ahead now to Marrero's future at Stanford, questions arise of where he will play and how soon. The speed back says that his discussions with the Cardinal coaches leave it open as to whether he would play right away this fall, or take a redshirt year. "It really depends on how I show up, if I'm ready to play," the future Card asserts. "We all hope that I could play this fall, but it depends on my adaptation to the system. A big jump from high school to college is getting acclimated to a new offense, and I can't say how that will go."
As for position, Marrero says that he is coming in as a tailback primarily. He singles out current Card running back J.R. Lemon as a great player and also talks about fellow committee Jason Evans. "But you can never have enough backs," he adds. "In the beginning, [Stanford] didn't know where they wanted me. After this season, though, they knew that tailback was a big need. Only after having gone through a season can a first year coach really find out what your players really have and can do. Notre Dame similarly didn't know what they had until their first season was through. But not having success running the ball last year, Stanford wants to run the ball better. They went out and got Jason Evans, but we have different running styles. I'm smaller but can go end to end on the field. You need to be able to break a big play at any time in a game, to put the defense back on its heels. I can catch the ball, and I can run it. I can open up the field a lot more. I can play a lot of slotback, tailback or wideout - whatever creates mismatches. That's the name of the game for offensive football today: mismatches. You love to put running backs with speed up against linebackers."
Also look for Marrero to return kicks for the Cardinal, where he likely has the first chance to employ his blinding speed on the field.
- David Marrero joins Aquinas teammate Jay Ottovegio in heading to Stanford, committing to the Card just nine days apart. They make the first high school teammates to commit in the same Stanford recruiting class since Teyo Johnson and Amon Gordon came in tandem from Mira Mesa High School in San Diego back in 2000.
- Outsiders might assume that Ottovegio played a big role pulling his best friend to Stanford, but Marrero says that is not true. Ottovegio tried not to talk to Marrero much these final days, recognizing the tremendous pressure under which his friend already found himself. Marrero reveals that the attraction of attending The Farm with his buddy was not germane to his final decision. "It's just icing on the cake," the tailback states. "I knew from the beginning that Jay was looking at Stanford, but we had to make our own decisions. And I'm not going to follow him there. I mean, what if he isn't happy and decides to transfer out after a year or two?"
- Stanford has pulled itself out of a deep pit at the running back position in the past two months. Of their top three recruits, two committed back in the summer to other schools. The third, Reggie Bush, never put himself in Stanford's ballpark academically (SAT and GPA). The nightmarish possibility of signing no talented tailbacks in this class for the second straight year was imminent. Now with 6'2" Jason Evans and 5'10" David Marrero, plus the #1 fullback in America in 6'1" Emeka Nnoli, Stanford may boast one of the very top running recruiting classes in the entire country. USC with their three top-15 backs and another one still on the hook, may be the only school to arguably outclass the Cardinal runners.
- Marrero is rated #24 in the nation at running back by TheInsiders, who makes no distinction between any classes of backs (including fullbacks). Rivals, who breaks down RBs into several classes, calls him the #3 all-purpose back in this class, where "all-purpose" refers to smaller, quicker runners who can hurt defenses with their speed across several positions.
- Marrero immediately becomes the fastest player in this Stanford recruiting class, and at least as judged by the 40-yard times at Nike Camps across the nation, he will be the fastest player when it is all said and done. The only other recruit with speed in that ballpark remaining on the board is Los Angeles wide receiver Mark Bradford.
- He was hosted at Stanford by redshirt freshman receiver Grant Mason, but is careful to explain that he felt hosted by a myriad of Cardinal players. "I spent time with almost every player on the team. The most memorable part of the whole trip was the fact that everything we did was fifty kids together, who don't mind all hanging out together. I thought that was cool. And it was a good feeling for so many players to accept me so early. You know that will only get better once I get there and really get to know them."
- Though speculation has come from some fans of the schools involved that this recruitment may have been influenced by coaches at St. Thomas Aquinas, David and the entire Marrero family are adamant that his coaches remained completely impartial, yet unwaveringly supportive throughout the ordeal.