There are a lot of people in professional sports that have amazing back stories of overcoming obstacles and surviving tough situations. In that way the story of USC WR and potential first round pick Marqise Lee is not unique, but it is still uplifting and deserves to be spotlighted. He recently told his story of growing up in the rough area of Inglewood California to ESPN.
"I grew up in Inglewood, which is pretty bad. Violent. Unsafe. You had to look over your shoulder 24/7. It wasn't a place you wanted to stay." says Lee as he is driving through his old stomping grounds.
At just 5 years of age Marqise was taken into foster care along with his four siblings. Eventually several years later Lee would be taken in with his sister by his grandparents, but it was to stay in an old run down motel. Living out of bags of clothes, he was unwilling to tell his peers about his living quarters. He was even worried just to let others see him come in and out of the Kings Motel that he was staying at, knowing the inevitable embarrassing questions that would follow.
At just 10 years old and desperate for a place to fit in, Lee joined his brothers representing the Queen Street Bloods. He got out of the life, but one of his brothers didn't. As Marqise drives through the neighborhood that his brother was shot in he tells the camera completely straight faced that his brother died nearby gang banging.
It is impossible not to notice the detached sort of way he talks about it, almost like it was a different life. It still hurts him to this day to talk about losing his brother who was just 18 and trying to turn his life around. Lee is unable to shed the sadness that those memories insist on bringing back, but all he says to that extent is that it is "kind of hard to talk about".
Luckily for Marqise, he found the game of football. He realized he had a talent and a passion, and he excelled at it. Without the game who knows where he would have ended up, but Darby Park of Inglewood California provided an outlet to Mr. Lee. An outlet that he has utilized and now has him primed to be playing on Sundays in the National Football League.
"Sports was an ally in my case, as far as getting away from the gang banging and all the other stuff. I try to motivate myself through the past to make me a better player moving forward."
Another ally came in the way of a teammate's family willing to take him in and offer the stability and love that he had missed throughout his life. One loving family giving back, helping Lee in his time of need was that one last hand up that he needed to create a dream for his future. He asked his teammate Stephen if his family would be willing to take him in, and from that point on he became part of the caring family he always needed but didn't have.
With the support system in place he shined on the field and he smiled off of it. He finally had the life he had always wanted, and it didn't even have anything to do with football. Football was a bonus, one that would take him to college after USC offered him a full scholarship that he gladly accepted, but the family he had now was his real dream that he was already blessed to be living.
Staring at the sign to Darby Park where it all started Marqise has a new perspective. He looks back on his life for where he started and how far he has come. Reflecting on the past in a way that he never imagined he would have the luxury of doing. Training to play in the NFL, a dream he didn't even bother having growing up with certainty of life on the streets seemingly awaiting him.
"Darby park is where everything started for me, that park holds a lot of history for me as far as getting me started on what I am doing now. Don't come back here much though, I mean it's surreal to me because I never had a dream to go to the NFL. I didn't watch it, I didn't watch football. Because I never thought I was actually going to make it, but there I am now. Training for the Combine."
Lee says that last part while at the fence of Darby Park, a faraway look on his face. A look of sincerity, a look of disbelief, a look of not wanting to wake up from a wonderful dream. Marqise won't have to wake up from the dream because he is living it, waiting to see who the team that drafts him will be.
The Raiders could do a lot worse than putting their money on Marqise Lee, though he would probably have to fall out of the first round for that to happen. At least they would know they are getting a man who has seen the dark and yet lives in the light, happy just to be alive. That sounds like a perfect fit for the team that Reggie McKenzie is currently putting together, full of "throwaways" that have everything to prove and nothing to lose.