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Tuesday, October 23, 2001
Where Are They Now? Marcus Dupree
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online
For every Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith, there's an Anthony Thompson, a Paul Palmer and a LeShon Johnson, guys who never matched their college success in the NFL.
Some of the unfortunate ones were too small. Others were just a step too slow. But you'll also find a select few individuals who had all the tools. They're the ones who didn't achieve NFL success for reasons of circumstance. Such was the case with Marcus Dupree, a star running back who lit the college football scene on fire as a freshman in 1982.
It was those damn knees.
Before the first of several knee surgeries, Dupree was a "can't miss" type of prospect. The madness surrounding his college recruitment while at Philadelphia (Miss.) High School was so large-scale that prominent novelist Willie Morris even wrote a book about it entitled, "The Courtship of Marcus Dupree," which was published in 1983.
Dupree granted the University of Oklahoma a gift when he decided to run for the Sooners. Though only a true freshman, coach Barry Switzer built his offense around his star recruit. Dupree came through, too, earning second-team All-American honors after running for 905 yards to lead his team to the Fiesta Bowl. In that game against Arizona State, he erupted for 239 yards to garner the game's MVP award. Unfortunately, one season of greatness was all the Sooners got out of their bulldozing running back.
A much-publicized rift with Switzer led to Dupree's transfer to Southern Mississippi. But he never played a game for the Golden Eagles.
"People were telling me I'd have to sit out for two years and I said, 'No way,'" said Dupree, looking back on why he discontinued his collegiate career and bolted for the newly formed USFL.
Just 19 years old, Dupree hooked on with the New Orleans Breakers in the first week of the 1984 season after his transfer cost him over a year of football. Though he missed preseason camp, Dupree showed flashes of brilliance while running for 684 yards and nine touchdowns even though he shared backfield duties with Buford Jordan. It was the last season anyone would see the real Marcus Dupree, as two consecutive knee surgeries in 1985 and 1986 kept him sidelined.
"Once a running back hurts his knees, he's never really the same," said Dupree.
Though he knew this to be true, Dupree was determined to play at least one more time. It was something he had to prove to himself.
"I didn't want to go until the day I die saying, 'What if?'" said Dupree, looking back on the period from 1986-1990, when he rehabilitated his knee. "I always wanted to play in the NFL, so I just worked hard to achieve that goal just like every young kid who grows up playing football."
The Los Angeles Rams, who drafted him in the 12th round in 1986 in case he ever got healthy, gave him a look at the end of the 1990 season. Dupree played sparingly in 15 games over a two-season stint with the Rams, but he left the NFL without having scored a touchdown. Just getting to the NFL after a four-year hiatus and knee problems was something the Rams' media guide called "one of the most intriguing comeback stories in all of sports."
At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Dupree was always a menacing force who ran with authority. The 49ers even brought him into training camp in 1992 to play fullback, even though he had never played that position before.
And you'll probably start seeing his name pop up more frequently in the papers over the next few years as there's another Dupree who was a can't miss prospect at Philadelphia High. His son, Marquez, is now a freshman at Alabama.
"He runs like me, but he's not as big as me yet. He's got the potential, though, and he's explosively quick," said the proud papa.
These days, you'll find Dupree back in his hometown, where he's involved in a number of businesses with his agent, who used to represent the great Walter Payton. And as you can imagine, he's always over at the high school helping out his son's team with the offense.
He still follows football, particularly the New Orleans Saints, who employ his cousin Fred McAfee at running back. Unlike so many other retired football players, never mind the ones who had knee surgeries, Dupree is able to participate in any activity he wants.
"I'm still playing baseball, softball or whatever I want," said Dupree.
Hopefully, for his family's sake, someone will have reason to write "The Courtship of Marquez Dupree" in a few years.
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.
|Marcus Dupree was a second-team All-American as a freshman before knee injuries limited his effectiveness.||