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March 12, 2008Tulsa wide receiver Brennan Marion makes the most of his opportunities.
Whether getting an education or catching the football, Marion didn't just answer when opportunity knocked. He also invited opportunity in, offered it an easy chair and a drink and implored it to stay a while.
In doing so, he has gained stability in his unstable life and enough yardage to earn a place in the NCAA record book.
Marion last season averaged an astounding 31.9 yards per catch on 39 receptions, breaking the 39-year-old Division I-A mark set by Houston's Elmo Wright, who averaged 27.9 yards on 43 receptions in 1968.
That's an amazing accomplishment, especially considering Marion was in his first season at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane begin spring practices on Tuesday and Marion is sure he can offer more this fall.
"I think this year I can be better," said Marion, who said he runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds. "This will be the first time I've ever been on the same team for two years."
That quote hints at the instability of Marion's pre-Tulsa life.
Marion doesn't reveal many details about his past, but offers that he grew up in a single-parent home in Pittsburgh and was forced to move repeatedly. He said he attended six high schools, including three in his sophomore year, and that his grades suffered as a result.
"My mom just kept getting different jobs and we had to move a lot," he said. "I went to junior college because I didn't have my SAT scores."
Marion went to Foothill College in Los Altos Hill, Calif., for his freshman season, then transferred to De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif.
He said that because he couldn't afford an apartment, he slept in the locker room or the press box until a coach found out and let him move in with him.
Marion earned an associates degree, then headed for Tulsa to play for first-year coach Todd Graham.
Last season, Tulsa became the first team in NCAA history to boast a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.
Marion led in receiving yardage with 1,244 yards, but freshman receiver Trae Johnson and freshman fullback Charles Clay had more receptions. Clearly, Marion wasn't quarterback Paul Smith's first target.
"Starting out, they were just throwing go-routes, but as the year went on they started throwing me more curls, crosses and outs," Marion said.
It made sense to get him the ball. He averaged a touchdown on every fourth catch and had 25 receptions that covered at least 25 yards. Each of his 11 touchdown catches covered between 31 and 75 yards.
His speed obviously is a big reason for his big plays, and so were Johnson and Clay, who drew a lot of defensive attention. In addition, Tulsa faced five teams that ranked 100th or worse nationally in pass defense. This fall, the Golden Hurricane face six teams that ranked 95th or worse in pass defense in 2007.
Marion also benefited from having Smith throwing to him. Smith was adept at avoiding the rush, buying time, and then finding open receivers downfield when coverage broke down. Smith is gone, and he'll be replaced by David Johnson, Clark Harrell (the younger brother of Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell) or junior college transfer Jacob Bower.
Marion doesn't view having a new quarterback as a problem; to him, it's just another opportunity.
"Last year we didn't get to work with Paul (in the spring)," he said. "This year we have a lot of time to get used to whoever our quarterback is."
But Marion admits that duplicating his record-setting average is highly unlikely. "I'm shooting for 25 yards a catch," he said.
What college program has produced the most Super Bowl MVPs? (Answer at the end of the column.)
A new-tral trend?
The stadium, being built in the Dallas suburb of Arlington, is expected to be among the most luxurious in the nation and could seat up to 100,000.
If the series proves successful, it could start a trend of more series at neutral sites, particularly in areas considered recruiting hotbeds. Last season, the only neutral-site series matched Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville and Army vs. Navy in Philadelphia.
Notre Dame, which will play Washington State in San Antonio in 2009, had negotiated to play Baylor at Cowboys Stadium in 2012, but that game was moved to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to avoid conflict with Big 12 TV contracts.
Terrelle Pryor, the nation's top-ranked football recruit who still hasn't decided where he'll sign, often has toyed with opponents. Now opponents can do the same to him.
That is, if they can grab a new toy likeness of Pryor in his Jeannette (Pa.) High School uniform. Getting their hands on one may prove even more difficult than getting their hands on Pryor.
A Pittsburgh-area man who makes sports figurines as a hobby has made two of Pryor, but said he doesn't plan to sell them.
Three former Georgia Bulldogs have been named Super Bowl MVPs. Miami safety Jake Scott was honored in Super Bowl VII, Denver running back Terrell Davis was honored in Super Bowl XXXII and Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward was honored in Super Bowl XL.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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