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Play sports while you can

By: Jim Linsdau Gold Country Media Sports
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There is perhaps no better time to enjoy sports than during those college prep years. There are no decisions to make as to where to play, politics are at a minimum, and there are no big-money contracts to negotiate. It’s what makes athletics worthwhile in any community. Eventually graduation rolls around and life goes from being about the future to becoming the present. This past weekend, ESPN Films 30 for 30 ran a story on running back Marcus Dupree titled “The Best That Never Was.” Dupree was born black in a small town in Mississippi called Philadelphia, the town near where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Dupree loved football. He was large for his age and possessed both agility and speed. He was so good the local high school coach convinced his mother to let him come out for spring practice – Dupree was in the eighth grade. As a freshman, the first time he touched the ball he ran back a kickoff for a touchdown. His high school statistics were amazing. He didn’t start at running back until he was a sophomore, and that year he scored 28 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 2,000 yards. By the time he was a senior he rushed for 2,995 yards. For obvious reasons, the 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound back became the most highly recruited high school player in the game’s history. So exciting was Dupree as a high school football player he almost single-handedly ended segregation in his town. By the time he graduated blacks and whites sat in the stands together cheering for their hometown hero. The film depicted the early joy Dupree felt playing football in high school. He also played basketball and baseball, but football was where his exploits staggered the imagination, and opposing defenses. When he was a senior, college coaches and recruiters from around the country poured into Philadelphia. They virtually stood in line just to get 15 minutes with the Philadelphia star, but that attention began to trouble him. He had always played for the love of football, and his younger brother crippled by cerebral palsy. He ran because his brother couldn’t. Dupree eventually chose the University of Oklahoma, but his relationship with then Sooners’ coach Barry Switzer didn’t go well. Switzer commented he didn’t want the rest of his team to feel slighted by a freshman superstar; still, Dupree managed to make Oklahoma football history. Unhappy in Norman, Okla., Dupree eventually transferred to Southern Mississippi University. Eligibility kept him out of football so he turned his attention to the pros. The National Football League wasn’t drafting underclassmen so he opted for the ill-fated United States Football League. There he began to suffer from a string of injuries, and his multi-million dollar contract proved almost worthless; before long the league, and Dupree, were out of business. He returned to his hometown and began driving a truck. Friends convinced him to give the NFL a try, and after losing 100 pounds he wound up with the Los Angeles Rams. However, injuries continued to plague him and the “Best” that took a town from civil strife to national prominence was cut in his second year. As brilliant a runner as Dupree was he never gained the prominence of a Jimmy Brown or Walter Payton. He was the epitome of excellence in high school, but after life became the game football became a job. Sports can be inspiring, but they’re seldom a magic-carpet ride to prosperity. And as Marcus Dupree discovered, no amount of talent could change that.