Marquis Lucas probably never should have made it to Morgantown.
Growing up in the heart of Miami, there were plenty of obstacles in Lucas’ path to becoming West Virginia’s starting right tackle.
He cut his teeth in a neighborhood that is in a constant struggle with gang violence and drugs. Some of the things he witnessed within walking distance from his home and his alma mater, Miami Central High School, quickly made him realize just how bad things can get when you choose the wrong path in life.
“The worst thing I saw was, about a block away from my house, somebody got shot up and I saw someone’s brains on the floor. That was kind of disturbing. Growing up in an area like that, you see a lot of different things, but that was probably one of the most mind-blowing,” Lucas said.
Throughout his childhood, Lucas said his mother, Tammy, constantly reminded him of his potential and the fact that there was more to life than what he had seen on the streets of Miami.
“It’s all about parenting. I didn’t grow up in the best neighborhood, but my mom stayed down on me and my father, they did a great job with me. It’s all about staying down on top of your kids,” he said.
“They let me know, you can take this route or you can go this route. You could end up like some of your friends, or you could be different and go off to school and make something of yourself.”
While Lucas had the intelligence to make something out of himself as a scholar alone, a family role model is what influenced him to put on the pads and hit the gridiron.
“My older brother was a very good football player. Things didn’t work out for him, but since I was a young boy I’ve looked up to him doing what he wanted to do,” he said.
Lucas played his first organized football as a freshman in high school. His career didn’t exactly start with a bang. In fact, it almost fizzled out before he even reached the age of 16.
“I actually tried to quit, but one thing my parents aren’t fans of is quitting. You know, you signed up for this, and now you’ve got to finish it. I thank God for them, because without them I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.
On two separate occasions Lucas tried to walk away from football in high school. Both of those times, his mother was there to talk him through his troubles.
“I tried to quit my ninth grade year and my 10th grade year. My sophomore year I was going against Cory Henry. He (ended up going) to FAU (Florida Atlantic University). He was a senior and I was a sophomore and he just tore me apart. He made me feel like I wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“I went home and told my mom, ‘I’m done playing ball. I can’t do this.’ She told me, ‘You’re not quitting on your teammates. It’s the first game of the season. You’ve got to get better.’ I trusted her words. I trusted my coaches, and I made it happen with a lot of hard work.”
The hard work Lucas put in at Miami Central High School paid off. He drew interest from old Big East schools like South Florida, Cincinnati, West Virginia and ACC powerhouse Florida State.
While donning the garnet and gold might have been tempting to any kid who grew up playing football in the sunshine state, Lucas said West Virginia set itself apart from start to finish in the recruiting process.
“I could have stayed in Florida. I had a real good relationship with Florida State at the beginning of my recruitment, but once WV got a hold of me, what got me was their effort in trying to get me. They maximized communication. It really made me feel wanted,” he said.
If feeling wanted was what brought Marquis Lucas to Morgantown, it certainly wasn’t what kept him here, at least at first.
After being redshirted in his first year on campus in 2011, Lucas saw limited action at the guard position in 2012.
Coming into the 2013 season, big things were expected out of the big man from Miami.
Instead of being a force and solidifying West Virginia’s offensive line, Lucas struggled to stay on the field, bouncing from position to position and questioning whether college football was really meant for him.
“Of course it was difficult. I started out the season (as a starter). We had a few bad games. I got replaced. It hurt me, but I honestly want to say it helped me in a way. It just really let me know that anybody can be replaced at any moment,” he said.
Although she was more than 1,000 miles away in Miami, Lucas knew he could count on his mom in his time of doubt.
“I even had a time where I thought about giving it all up. I called her and she answered on the first ring. She just let me know, ‘You can’t let this get you down. You know you’ve got a couple years left. Just stay down, stay focused and don’t stress yourself out.’ It’s like she always says, ‘Just leave it to God and it will be all right,’” he said.
Turn the page to 2014, and Tammy Lucas looks like a prophet. Marquis has drawn praise from West Virginia’s coaching staff throughout fall camp and has the look of a man with something to prove.
He’ll certainly have a challenge right off the bat. West Virginia takes on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Aug. 30. That game will be special for Lucas for more than one reason. It will be the first time his mother has seen him play in person since he left Miami.
“It’s going to be awesome, man. I can’t wait to see her. That’s my pride and joy. Just having her there, I think that will increase my game so much more,” he said.
“It’s different knowing she’s actually in the stadium watching me as opposed to being at home watching. It just does something to me. That’s my girl. I never want to let her down.”