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February 5, 2013

Family pushes North to success

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- He asked, on more than one occasion, to play defense.

Coach said no.

When ESPN called and asked to single out and televise his signing day ceremony, he said no.

And when the time arrived that he felt comfortable making his college declaration public, Dad sitting on the couch across from him, he simply tweeted out the news without any grand proclamation.

Meet MarQuez North, the unassuming high school All-America wide receiver from Charlotte, N.C., who will sign with the University of Tennessee on Wednesday.

He is a physical mash-up of Cordarrelle Patterson and Da'Rick Rogers, 6 feet, 4 inches of sinewy muscle, with the quiet yet determined approach of Justin Hunter and the work ethic of a walk-on.

He is among the centerpiece commitments in Butch Jones' inaugural Volunteers signing class. If North realizes this, humility blocks him from showing as much.


"One day, I just felt it. I just was like, 'It's going to be Tennessee.' I just didn't want to make it verbally; it was too close to signing day. I was just like 'Why do this?' But it's out now, and I'm comfortable with it," North told VolQuest during a recent afternoon visit in Charlotte. "No hard feelings."


Added his father, Ramondo, "To tell you the truth, that happened when we actually called (North) Carolina and said we were going to go other ways with it. Me and MarQ were sitting on the couch and he didn't really say anything except 'I'll be attending Tennessee in the fall.' So then my phone started vibrating, and I'm reading him. I said 'Why didn't you tell me?' He said 'Everybody knows. I might as well just do it.' He don't really get excited. He doesn't really get worried. He's not a rah-rah player. I'll ask him if he's hype for the game, and he's always like 'Dad, I'm all right. I'll show it out on the field.' That's the kind of person he is."

The player and the person are the same only in that the goal is to handle it all with grace. But where North seamlessly shines on the field with his sublime skill-set, he shows no inclination of ego away from it.

"He's a humble kid, and he doesn't like talking about himself. He doesn't want to be bigger than the team and he likes to stay under the radar. I don't think success is going to get to his head," Creek coach Mike Palmieri explained. "He didn't want to make (signing day) a big fanfare as far as hats and all kinds of hoopla. We have 10 kids who are going to commit. He didn't want to make his day any bigger than theirs. He wanted to be with his teammates and just do the normal process we do here at Mallard Creek."

That process has yielded no less than nine players inking scholarship papers now for three-straight years, and North might be positioned to be among the most transcendental of that group. Born with six fingers on each hand and fittingly scoring six with a touchdown on his first carry for the 8-year-old Dolphins of Pineville, N.C., North has risen to top-tier status among this year's deep group of prep wideouts.

Offers began to roll in for North following his sophomore season playing quarterback at Lumberton High School, but North made what seemed a natural switch to wideout at Mallard Creek.

He had, after all, played running back, quarterback and any other position coaches would allow him to play growing up. Even if North thought he might grow up on the Tobacco Road hardwoods instead of gridirons.

"He actually didn't like it at first. Went out there a couple practices, had a little argument going home and he actually quit," Ramondo recalled. "Grandma (Sharion Brandenburg) said you're going back out there. And from there, he didn't look back. That first year was a learning experience and after that, it was just second nature to him.

"He always had to play up in weight because he was younger but he had to play up. He would worry about making the weigh-ins and he wouldn't eat in the mornings and things like that. Once we got through that, the next step was realizing just because they're older than you doesn't mean they're better than you. Once he wasn't scared, his game just stepped up from there."

"It was a real good experience for me, but I didn't know if I wanted to stick with it because I was playing basketball previously," MarQuez said. "I thought about quitting at that point, but my dad and my grandmother, they wouldn't let me. Then towards the end of the season I found out that I actually liked it. And then I just stuck with it."

What never has been in question is North's commitment to academics. Mother, Niya, a CPA who works at a Charlotte-area bank, made sure of that pursuit of excellence.

"I would always tell him failure is not an option, and if he would bring home a 'B,' I would just say 'Oh, no. You can do better,'" Niya said. "He wants to do the best, to be the best he can be."

North hardly will relive the game-winning touchdown he snared to stamp his arrival at Mallard Creek in 2011, but casually yet directly he makes clear college was the goal, and he was going on the strength of his academics if not his athletics.

"Really I started realizing it, probably in like eighth grade. In eighth grade I remember looking up to high school players and seeing them going off to play in different places and I just felt like I could do the same thing. I was really strong academically, and I probably could have still gone to college academically," North said. "But everybody loves sports. And football is the main thing I did, so I just thought 'Why not?'

"My mom, she's like a brainiac. She's real smart. So that's where that really came from. When I was younger, I used to get a 'B' and she'd be like 'Bring it up.'"

The constants for North have been academics, touchdowns --- nearly 60 of them across three varsity seasons --- and the humble, grounded approach he has shared with his family. North has received so much college attention, carries such a national profile, that the mail from recruiters has accumulated at a couple different family members' homes.

But the only way to know North is arguably the top prospect in the state of North Carolina is to know that North is the top prospect in the state of North Carolina.

"The way he carries himself, the little things he does around here is big for our program because a lot of these kids look up to him, not only with the process but around the school and the community," Palmieri said. "I tell him he's a role model to these kids, as much as they won't say it, but for our kids to look up to MarQuez is something special."

Added Niya, "He's very selfless, and that goes to his grandparents, my mother, things his father has taught him and things we talk about. It's OK to be selfless. You don't have to want to be in the spotlight of everything. He wants to do things with his friends and doesn't want anybody to feel less than he is.

"MarQuez is definitely a leader. When his friends stay over, they know. Have your church clothes ready, because we're going to church on Sunday (at Seigle Avenue Church of God, where grandmother Sharon is a minister). He'll have 5 or 6 boys going to church with him. He leads people to things. I know he will be a great lawyer. He might go on and be the President."

For now, though, North is just ready to move beyond the recruiting process. He hasn't stressed; hasn't bowed to the unreal, if not overzealous, pressures to stay in-state. He has, in North's own unassuming manner, kept recruiting at a distance much as he has kept defensive backs at arm's length.

"I mean, really, how (Ramondo) told me to really manage it and how I did manage it is to try and put them on your time, in a way. Don't let them stress you out. That's why I was kind of chill about the whole thing. I didn't really let it stress me out," North said. "Really my mom doesn't get too much into recruiting, but my father knows I just don't let it stress me out so I'm pretty sure he's comfortable. I don't really think it's a pride thing about the process; I just feel like they know what I want for myself and they just respect that."

North knows he wants Tennessee. Recently, before his decision was coerced into public knowledge by the antics of some in North Carolina, North decided to get a tattoo and ink his commitment to the Vols with "UT" artwork on his left biceps. Sure, it helps that Knoxville is little more than three hours from Charlotte, and North knows his close-knit family will attend every game they can.

But he's signing with Tennessee because it is Tennessee. It is Jay Graham. It is Butch Jones. It fits.

"That wasn't really that important," North said of distance. "If Tennessee was like 600 miles away, I still think I would have decided to go there. But that's important to my family. Most people think of Tennessee and think of the Western part of the state that's several hours away. But UT, it's just like three-some hours away. That's nothing."

His decision, however, is something. And as Ramondo recalls, it's been months in the making.

"The first visit Mar' came to Tennessee, it wasn't a game. He just rode with a couple players and a couple parents. When he got back, he tapped me and was like 'Dad, we need to go to Tennessee.' And I was like, 'Tennessee?' And he said, 'Yeah, Tennessee.' And with Mar', he doesn't ask for anything," Ramondo said. "So he went to Tennessee again and came back and said 'Dad, you need to go to Tennessee.' So we went to the Florida game, and I was excited. Having a good time. Go in the stadium and none of the fans were in there yet. I was like this is nice, it's big. We go back out for the Vol Walk and come back in and the stadium is full and I tapped him and said 'Mar', I like this.' And he said, 'I told you you would.'

"From that point on, I knew he had a big interest in coming to Tennessee."

North plans to be in Knoxville by June, first session summer school. He'll have to return home to Charlotte a few days later for his high school graduation.

Between now and then, the former national champion in the junior track and field hurdles will continue to hone his craft. The immeasurable assets, however, are what will continue to set North apart.

"The intangibles are just like me wanting the ball in competitive situations when the pressure is on. That's probably what really stands out to me. People can do stuff in the first quarter or whatever, but I feel like second half is when you really show your game. That's what I feel," North said. "Any means necessary to get a 'W.' Like I don't even really consider myself just a receiver. I consider myself an athlete, really. Anything it takes."

Just don't expect North to seek any attention in the process.





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