Like NFL players Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb, the USF quarterback can do it all.
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001
TAMPA -- One coach looks at Marquel Blackwell and sees the next Michael Vick. Another looks at him and sees some Donovan McNabb, maybe some Shaun King.
Marquel Blackwell looks at himself and sees -- himself.
"I'm not the next anyone," the South Florida quarterback said. "I can't get caught up in that. I just do what I have to do for the team to win. Whatever it takes. If I have to pass 60 times or run 60 times, I'll do it."
Against I-AA Jacksonville State last season, he passed for 166 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 84 yards in a 40-0 runaway. "He's got some Michael Vick in him," Jacksonville State secondary coach Matt Wannebo said, a reference to Atlanta's (and the NFL's) No. 1 draft choice, "but Vick would take off and run more while (Blackwell) will hold up sometimes and throw the ball. We thought we'd be able to rattle him to make mistakes -- we changed coverages and tried to move around a little to make him think -- and it didn't bother him. He handled the whole thing."
Said Troy State coach Larry Blakeney before Blackwell passed for 273 yards and ran for 113 in a 20-10 win over the top Division I-AA team: "He throws the ball well, but he hurts you mostly when he pulls it down and runs or they spread you out to cover all the receivers and then have a designed running play for him."
There's some movement toward that type of quarterback in the NFL. McNabb and King, and now Vick and others, are mobile quarterbacks who can throw but also can do serious damage with their speed and ability to run. Blackwell fits the mold.
"That was the difference in our game," Blakeney said. "We couldn't tackle him. If we'd had our druthers, he'd have been in the pocket all night."
That there appear to be similarities in the styles of King, the Bucs quarterback, and Blackwell is not surprising. "We played in the same youth leagues and I knew him when I was coming up in high school," Blackwell said. "He was a senior (Gibbs, class of '94) when I was coming onto the varsity (Dixie Hollins, class of '96).
"We spent a lot of time together this summer just talking about a lot of things. He gave me little pointers, little things that I could do to help myself, like, "Just take what you can get,' and "There's a lot of people around you; use their talents,' and "Stay healthy, that's the big thing.' "
Last year, former USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales said Blackwell modeled himself after Drew Brees, Purdue's Heisman Trophy candidate, "because you want to be the best. ... That's a great challenge. A hell of a challenge. A lot of throwing, a lot of running."
And as a sophomore, Blackwell did both rather well, thank you. He completed 58 percent of his passes (171 of 296) for 2,016 yards and 13 touchdowns (against four interceptions), and gained 566 net yards rushing, second to Rafael Williams' 704.
So with Brees now in the NFL, who is Blackwell's "competition" this year?
"Myself," he said. "You've got to set your goals high to get where you want to go. It has to come from within. I know I've got another season to get better. Other than that, everything will take care of itself."
He may get better this year as well. But if last season is any indication, the statistics may not reflect that. In its first season in Division I-A, USF plays eight games against teams in college football's top echelon. Last season Blackwell threw 16 more passes for 496 fewer yards in five I-A games than in six I-AA. His touchdown-to-interception ratio against I-AA competition was 10-to-1; against I-A teams it was 3-to-3.
Still, even defensive backs coach Tyrone Nix of Division I-A Southern Miss was impressed by Blackwell despite his 94 yards passing and 22 rushing in USF's 41-7 loss last season to the 17th-ranked Golden Eagles.
Even when USF trailed 27-0 in the third quarter, "he kept his poise very well," Nix said. "I don't think we ever rattled him. Late in the game he took them on a scoring drive. He kept competing, kept leading.
"I don't know what it takes to play (in the NFL) but on the collegiate level he's one of the best quarterbacks we faced last year. He has a strong arm, he knows where to go with the football and he can run; he can beat you running or throwing."
And appearances to the contrary, Blackwell would rather throw: "I consider myself a passer before a runner." So does Bulls coach Jim Leavitt. "He doesn't want to run. I know he has the ability to run, so we have some things in there so he can use his ability. We're just trying to use all his talents. But Marquel's a better thrower than he is a runner.
"The best thing is the experience. Marquel's been through it and we think that's going to help him a lot. ... Marquel is his own worst enemy. In other words, Marquel's got all the ability in the world to do as much as he wants to do. It just depends on how far he wants to take himself."