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Injuries don't deter Marion or Wake Forest

The Dixie Hollins track star will play football in college despite limited playing time in four seasons.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Kevin Marion's accomplishments in the long jump go on forever.

The Dixie Hollins senior won a national indoor title last season and jumped 25 feet, 5 inches at the Class 3A state meet, a mark that was the best in the nation at that time and set a state record, beating the 25-2 leap of Admiral Farragut's Ed Manderson in 1986.

Yet, despite dominating the event at the state and national levels, Marion's ticket to college came from football, not track.

A utility player who has played just one season after sustaining two knee injuries, Marion was a prized recruit in Pinellas County this season and had offers from Rutgers, Connecticut, South Florida and Wake Forest.

He orally committed to the Demon Deacons and plans to be a walk-on with the track team.

"The people, the academics, the whole environment I was just sold on," Marion said of Wake Forest, a private school located in Winston-Salem, N.C. "The coaches were real trustworthy and I felt it was the place for me.

"I'm glad the whole recruiting process is over and I can concentrate on football. But it's strange because I thought I'd be running track. Actually, I'm just glad I'm able to go anywhere after what I went through."

Marion's plan to earn an athletic scholarship took a serious blow in August when he fell on the football field. Backpedaling during a drill the first day of practice, Marion went one way and his knee went another. Once he heard that unmistakable "pop", he knew the prognosis as he writhed in pain.

Marion had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the same knee in which he tore a meniscus (cartilage between a joint) two years ago.

With a damaged knee, Marion was an orthopedic surgeon's dream and a recruiter's nightmare. After all, who wants a hobbled player who had limited playing time in high school?

"I really thought it was over for me," Marion said. "I didn't think anyone would want me in football or track after I tore up my knee."

But Marion never fell off the radar screen. Days after surgery, the phone calls and letters kept coming from colleges.

Although he touched the ball no more than 30 times in four years, recruiters were enamored with his speed and ability.

"I think the recruiters were able to see enough from his junior year when he had some kickoff returns and other big plays not to be deterred," Dixie Hollins coach Mike Morey said. "When he first hurt (his knee), we didn't know what was going to happen. But today with ACL tears, the success rate is a lot higher. It's not that big of a deal. You're out for a year, you rehab and then you're ready to go."

Doctors will most likely let Marion resume running in the next two months. But Marion said he is unsure whether he will defend his state title in the long jump, his signature event.

"That's just something I'll have to feel out," Marion said. "It's a lot of wear and tear on the knees and I don't want to risk anything. But if I don't do the long jump this year, I'm pretty sure I'll get back at it once I'm in college."

Marion will have company at Wake Forest. Clearwater lineman Louis Frazier, a Times all-county first-teamer, has also orally committed to the school, and former Gibbs standout Chris Davis, a freshman receiver, is a Demon Deacon and a former teammate of Marion's with the Lightning Bolt track club.

"I'm glad that there will be some people from around here that I know on the team," Marion said. "But it was the school that made me want to go there."

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