CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before every game, Mallard Creek wide receiver Marquez North slips on headphones and listens to Kayne West rap “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
The song details a young man’s journey to learn that sudden money can’t buy happiness; and that with vast amounts of wealth – or talent – the expectations for you are higher than most.
“To whom much is given,” West says in the song, “much is tested.”
North, a senior with college scholarship offers from many of the nation’s top programs, identifies with the lyrics.
“I feel like this,” North said, his baritone barely at a whisper, “I like the (recruiting) attention, but I try to not get too high on it. I mean, once college ball starts, everything starts over anyway. Whatever you were in high school, it doesn’t mean so much.”
North, who turned 17 in April, is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He has a 3.5 GPA. The Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer rank him as the top recruit in North Carolina.
He has run 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, and used that speed in returning four kickoffs for touchdowns last season.
Sometimes, North made defenders miss and fall away awkwardly. And sometimes, he dipped and darted, ending up among a large clump of would-be tacklers. Just as quickly, North would burst from the pack for another big gain.
He was a running quarterback until enrolling at Mallard Creek last year. The switch to receiver was smooth, as he caught 39 passes for 1,022 yards and 19 touchdowns to earn all-state honors. He used his running skills last season to average 23 yards per rushing attempt.
“We see speed receivers. We see lengthy receivers. We see big receivers,” said West Charlotte coach Marcus Surratt. “But we very seldom see receivers with his combination of size and speed.”
That’s why North is ranked as high as No. 13 overall by national recruiting services, and why he’ll be a central figure in Friday night’s season-opening game at Memorial Stadium between Sweet 16 No. 1 Butler and North’s Mallard Creek Mavericks, who are ranked No. 2. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
Besides his rare strength and speed, North has large hands that seem built to catch footballs with ease. Recruiting analysts like what they see.
“He’s the top receiver in the Southeast,” said Rivals.com recruiting expert Mike Farrell. “And that’s usually a kid who hails from Florida, Georgia, Alabama. He’s a top-three wide receiver in the country. He’s a rarity in this state. He’s a big kid with these big hands.
“He’s very difficult to check and he’s very well thought of nationally. He’s expected to be a star at the next level and move onto the NFL with that kind of talent, to be honest.”
‘A whole different animal’
North’s father, Ramondo, played for several NFL teams as a wide receiver and won a Super Bowl ring in 2003 with Tampa Bay. He also played in the Canadian Football League and NFL Europe. In high school, he might have been the fastest sprinter in North Carolina. He was a star receiver on West Charlotte’s first N.C. 4A football championship team in 1995. During his junior and senior seasons, Ramondo North was named most valuable player of the N.C. 4A track championships after he won six state titles, three each year.
Ramondo North was 6-foot and 175 pounds in high school. But he says his son is a better football player.
“Marquez is a whole different animal,” he says.
“I knew he was fast,” said Ramondo North, who played collegiately at N.C. A&T. “He went to USA Track and Field and won the Junior Olympics’ 110 hurdles when he was 12. I was the smallest one in my family, but he was always big and tall.”
After spending his early years in Charlotte, Marquez and his family moved to Lumberton, to be near his mother’s family. On the Lumberton High junior varsity in ninth grade as a quarterback and receiver, North ran for more than 1,800 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. He started at quarterback as a sophomore on the varsity, running a Wing-T offense and ringing up 737 yards passing, 913 rushing and accounted for 22 touchdowns.
After his sophomore season, Marquez North said he received offers from Clemson and N.C. State.
“I was not really surprised,” his father said. “I’ve been around football too long. I know when somebody is good and when they are not. It’s not just because he’s my son. I know he’s good, so I don’t have to hype him up.
“You can put him anywhere on the field. You can put him at center, or nose guard, and he’ll shine. I’m not being arrogant about it. That’s the type player he is.”
Future becomes clear
The family returned to Charlotte before Marquez’s junior season. His father said they wanted Marquez to play with and against better players. Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri’s team has been nationally ranked the past few seasons and has produced high-profile recruits, including North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams and Florida offensive lineman D.J. Humphries.
The first time Palmieri saw North on the field, he knew the teenager would be better suited to receiver than quarterback. If he was worried about how North might take the news, he shouldn’t have been.
“He bought into it,” Palmieri said, “and the rest is history. We just told him that receiver is where he was going to play at the next level. You could see him run a route or catch a ball and the separation he would get. Man, it’s a bunch of different things, but it’s obvious that’s where he needed to play.”
Palmieri said he admires how North carries himself on the field and around campus, always respectful, always smiling and friendly.
“The teachers love him,” Palmieri said. “He’s a respectable kid. He has a plan of going to college and playing football and getting his degree and he sticks to it.”
North doesn’t want to talk about colleges too much. He plans to play in the Army All-American game in San Antonio early next year and maybe commit to a school in February.
He said he doesn’t have a short list, though. He has offers from Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, N.C. State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Wake Forest.
“Right now,” he said, “I just want one thing. I just want to have a good season, the best season we can have as a team. I want us to make it to states and I want to win it.”