Marquis Haynes: The Making of a Leader
Oct. 24, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
The path from Jacksonville, Florida to Oxford, Mississippi is about nine and a half hours by car and ventures through three different states. Senior defensive end Marquis Haynes’ journey from his hometown to Ole Miss was a far more indirect path filled with twists and obstacles, barriers which he now says helped him become a man.
It all began in 2013. Marquis capped off a decorated high school career at University Christian School in Jacksonville with a state championship and signed with North Carolina, a place that felt like home.
“I had my dream set,” Marquis said. “I was committed there for two years and thought I was going to wear powder blue and play for Coach (Larry) Fedora.”
He didn’t make the ACT score required to be admitted. The best option for a number of reasons was Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. Marquis left Jacksonville with the expected anxieties of an 18-year-old kid leaving home for the first time. But once he arrived on campus, he made up his mind he was up for the challenge.
“We pulled up and he looked at me with a smile and said ‘Dad I got this,’” his father, Maurice Haynes said.
Fork Union was a culture shock for him in a number of ways. Everything was structured, from the 4:30 a.m. wakeup calls, to where to put your laundry and how brightly your uniform boots gleaned while standing in the freezing cold waiting for Morning Colors to be played via trumpet as the school’s flag was raised to the top of the pole.
“It was real rough in the cold,” Marquis said. “You wake up at 4:30 in the morning. Your facial hair is all cleaned. Nothing can be hanging out.”
Class followed the early-morning ritual, followed by lunch at noon and football practice after that. Each day was a well-mapped plan. It wore on Marquis. He felt isolated at times. He was forced to watch the Tar Heels play the 2013 season without him and communicated with his parents via written letter. But it also helped him grow up at a critical time.
“They taught you how to be on time, be mentally tough,” Marquis said. “It helps you stop some of the things you were doing in your life and become a better person. Speaking more and not being silent, and being a more mature person in life.”
Marquis finished up a season that included 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles and a touchdown. He left Fork Union in December and was set to enroll at North Carolina in January in time for spring football. He was finally going to be a Tar Heel.
One phone call changed all of that. Haynes was told he would be denied admission again due to an academic stipulation that was outside of his control this time.
“I was really hurt,” Marquis said. “I had my mind set on there. They all knew me. We talked every day.”
How was this possible? Fedora was at Haynes’ home in Jacksonville less than two weeks ago. It felt like a free fall and the idea of not knowing what was to come next was discomforting to say the least.
“I was pissed,” Maurice said. “It was two weeks before school was supposed to start and we had already been doing stuff to get him ready to go there.”
Fedora made a phone call to the Ole Miss coaching staff, telling him about Haynes and his situation.
“I’m 205 pounds,” Marquis recalled. “I am thinking there is no way anyone in the SEC wants me. They want those boys that are 240-250.”
It quickly become more and more realistic. The NCAA granted Haynes a waiver to take a special visit to Ole Miss. Within a week, Haynes signed his letter of intent to be a Rebel. It wasn’t the easiest transition for a timid kid whose football career had taken a couple of detours before he even set foot on a college campus.
Everything from practice to finding buildings on campus to the school work itself felt overwhelming to Marquis.
“I didn’t feel comfortable here at first,” Marquis said. “It didn’t feel like home because when you are committed to a school for two years, you go up there and visit and it feels like home. That is your home. It’s where you want to be.”
If Fork Union had taught him anything, it was to stick with it. Marquis made it through his first semester and spring ball. The results soon followed. He played in all 13 games for Ole Miss in 2014 with four starts at defensive end. Marquis led the team in tackles for loss with nine and was named a freshman All-American. He started 12 games and recorded 10 sacks in 2015. He was a part of two of the greatest defenses in Ole Miss history that helped the Rebels go to back-to-back Access Bowl games.
All the while, things began to feel more like home. Marquis became a leader. And he dedicated his career to helping children through sports.
Marquis earned the respect of his coaches, and was awarded the Chucky Mullins Courage Award in the spring of 2016 and currently dons the number 38 in his final season.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Marquis said. “It took a month to sink in. I have it hanging on my wall. Every time I get home I am staring at the number 38.”
Haynes’ development in Oxford on and off of the field floods his father with emotions.
“I am so proud of him that I am almost shocked when I hear about some of the things he is doing,” Maurice said. “He is taking care of his responsibilities and everything. I am just really happy for him.”
Marquis is now able to sit back and reflect on his journey to Oxford and all of the places in between. He thinks about the early mornings in Virginia and the phone call that changed so much. He even remembers the date of the call as well as his first day at Ole Miss.
“It’s a real life thing, man,” Marquis said. “It’s my story.”
Haynes could’ve gone to the NFL after his junior season, and was projected to be a high draft pick. But after weighing a number of factors, he elected to come back for his senior season. One factor in particular carried heavy weight into the decision.
“Getting my diploma was the main thing really,” Haynes said. “That is really what I am going to need after football is over. It never hurts to have a backup plan.”
It wasn’t the path he envisioned, but it’s one he now thinks was meant to be. Haynes views Ole Miss as an open door. He needed an opportunity and found a home in the process.
“Just keep striving and when a door opens, take it,” Marquis said. “That is what I did. When Ole Miss opened a door, I took it and it made me who I am today.”
When asked to describe his journey, Marquis quickly spat out three words: sad, rough and exciting. He believes that is the best way to describe the trajectory of a career that will long be remembered in Oxford.
“That’s all I can say,” Marquis said. “Sad because you get the call that you can’t go where you had your mind made up on going. Rough because I had to sit four months and watch the school I was going to play for every Saturday and you aren’t out there. Excitement because when I came here I found a brotherhood.”
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