It seems almost a forgone conclusion that Marlon Humphrey will follow in the footsteps of his famous dad Bobby and play college football at the University of Alabama.
Or is it?
Marlon Humphrey is a national top-five cornerback prospect from Hoover High School, located just south of Birmingham and about 50 miles from the Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.
Bobby Humphrey gained fame as a two-time All-American at Alabama, where he rushed for 3,420 yards in the late-1980s. He then spent five years in the NFL, has coached in the past and is now a vice president for a Birmingham-area bank.
This just seems preordained that the son will follow in the footsteps of the father, right?
Or is it?
Publicly, Marlon Humphrey, listed at 6-1 and 180 pounds, has Alabama at the top of his list with Florida, Florida State, Mississippi State and South Carolina also under consideration. He has said he hopes to announce his college choice at the Under Armour All-American Game in January.
“I'm enjoying it,” Marlon said of the recruiting process. “Sometimes it's a little overwhelming, but I just try my best to take care of it."
Marlon Humphrey, ranked as the nation’s top corner and the No. 5 prospect overall by 247Sports.com, remains coy when he discusses Alabama, saying, “It would be a great place to play, if that’s where I chose.”
Humphrey was one of the top performers at the Under Armour combine. He may announce his college choice at the UA game in January.
Alabama, of course, is riding high with three national championships in the last four years. Crimson Tide football has always been a major phenomenon in the state of Alabama. But the chance to play at a successful school, with a head coach like Nick Saban and a pedigree of producing first-round DBs may be too much to turn down.
“Have you ever been to Alabama or do you know anything about this state or about football here?” Bobby Humphrey asked rhetorically. “People are expecting Marlon to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Quite naturally, Alabama fans, that’s what you’re supposed to anticipate: ‘Hey, your dad played there, so you’re supposed to go there.’
“But Marlon will let it play out. He is considering several schools. The kid is his own person and he will make his own decision. His dad will help him, but his dad won’t tell him where he should go. Obviously, I have my favorite and where I’d like for him to go. I’m not ashamed to say that. I played at Alabama and would like him to play at Alabama.
“They have great coaches there. They are doing well on the field and graduating their players as well.”
Bobby Humphrey said he will work with his son on the decision. But in the end, Marlon must find a school where he can be most comfortable.
“Whether or not he chooses to go to Alabama is another thing,” Bobby said. “Marlon has to go where he wants to go and he has to be where he is comfortable because I’m not going to play one snap or run one suicide or spend one three-hour day of practice on anybody’s field. It has to be where he likes it.
“When it gets hard, he won’t be able to say, ‘Dad made me come here.’ And it will get hard. It will not be easy. Coaches will be screaming at him and telling him to get it done. There are all those things coaches do to get guys ready to play ball.”
Marlon Humphrey can use his dad’s experiences to help him. Yes, Bobby Humphrey was a successful runner at Alabama. But his pro career was marked by a contract holdout and marred by injuries and off-the-field issues.
Humphrey wears uniform No. 26 -- just as his dad did at Alabama.
"My dad just tells me to be humble," Marlon said.
Marlon Humphrey was a key member of Hoover’s 16-0 Class 6A state championship team this past season. He wears the uniform No. 26 that his dad made famous at Alabama. But his Hoover coach, Josh Niblett, doesn’t sense that Marlon carries any extra burden as Bobby’s son.
“I don’t think that bothers him and I don’t think that has ever bothered Marlon,” Niblett said. “I think he has always felt like he had a plan together and he knew what he wanted to do. He has enjoyed the recruiting process and where he best fits. I don’t think he will let people pressure him into doing this or that.
“He understands that is there and it’s a given. He knows his dad played there and he knows how great a player he was there. And he knows the expectations that some people may have. His whole deal is he is relaxed and he’s evaluating it. He’ll visit the schools he is interested in and, in the end, he will make a decision.
“I don’t know when that will be and I don’t know where that will be. But I know he will go where he wants to go and where he feels he best fits and can help a program win a national championship.”
A Family Of Athletes
Marlon Humphrey comes from a true athletic family as one of five siblings. Football fans know about Bobby Humphrey, but Marlon’s mother Barbara was a record-setting track athlete at Alabama-Birmingham. His oldest brother, Maudrecus, signed with Arkansas as a wide receiver in 2009. He has since transferred to UAB and will play there this coming season.
An older sister, Breona, is a freshman track athlete at UAB. A younger sister, Brittley, just won two state track championships as a freshman. And the baby of the family, Marion, is a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track as well.
All of these meets and games keep Bobby Humphrey and his wife busy.
“It’s exciting to watch,” Bobby Humphrey said. “My wife and I enjoy going to the ballgames and watching him perform in track. It’s always great to see him have success. It’s been a pleasant ride to be there with him.”
Besides football, Marlon has also worked hard to improve his speed and is a multiple state champion in that sport. In the indoor track season, he set three state records in the 400-meter dash (48.11 seconds), the 60-meter dash (6.89) and the 60-meter hurdles (7.8).
In the outdoor season, he won three events in the state meet with records in two events. He won the 400 (47.28 seconds in prelim) and set records in the 110-meter high hurdles (13.86 in finals) and the 300-meter hurdles (36.33 in finals).
His mom still has the record in the 400 meters at UAB – a mark his sister Breona will be targeting.
“Her goal is to break his mother’s record in the 400 meters,” Bobby said.
His sister Brittley won the state in the 100-meter high hurdles and the 300 hurdles and was third in the long jump.
Bobby Humphrey said he doesn’t have to put any pressure on any of his kids because they are constantly trying to one-up one another.
“The thing I like about it now is they challenge each other,” he said. “One time, Marlon said he was glad he had an 87 or an 88 on a test and was like he was settling for a B. One of the kids said, ‘Marlon, you need to get an A. It’s only two more points.’ It’s good to hear that kind of talk.”
Bobby Humphrey doesn’t believe being the son of a former star athlete – or in this case, two star athletes – should be a negative for an up-and-coming athlete.
“I see it being a blessing,” Bobby said. “I guess it could be a curse to some. I think it is a challenge and a bar that has been set. It’s expected. And it’s not coming from his mom and dad. It’s coming from a society that follows athletics. People think the kids are supposed to be good because the mom and dad were good. My oldest two got scholarships and have done well.
“The younger kids now know that if they don’t have that same type of success, they’ll have to face their brothers and sisters.”
Making A Name For Himself
Marlon Humphrey burst on the scene in football as a sophomore at Hoover. He helped the Buccaneers post a 13-2 record. He finished the year with 33 tackles, nine pass break-ups, six interceptions, two fumble recoveries, five touchdowns and two punt blocks. He scored three touchdowns on interception returns, one on a fumble return and one of a kickoff return.
That was just a precursor to his junior season, when Hoover went unbeaten all the way through the Class 6A state championship game – a 31-0 rout of Opeilika. In that game, Marlon returned an interception 42 yards.
As a junior, Humphrey recorded 30 tackles, four interceptions, 15 pass break-ups, two kickoff returns for touchdowns and two blocked punts. He was selected to the prestigious All-USA first team by USA Today.
“Being at Hoover has helped me develop,” Marlon said. “We work at a high level and we try to play at a level other schools can't match.”
Niblett said he knew early on he had a special player in Marlon.
“Physically, as he came out of his freshman year and became a sophomore, we saw that he was ready to go,” Niblett said. “Mentally, we weren’t sure because we didn’t want to put too much on him. We let him play that sophomore year more from an athletic standpoint. He just took it and ran with it. Then last year, of course, we were able to get a little bit more in-depth with some of the things we were doing and he understood that.
“He didn’t get a whole lot of chances to make a whole lot of plays because a lot of people threw away from him. When he did have opportunities to make plays, he made them.”
Cornerbacks sometimes get a bad rap for “playing soft” and avoiding contact (think Deion Sanders). But Niblett said Marlon is a complete player.
“The thing that makes him special as a corner is he is 6-1, 180 pounds,” the coach said. “He is a physical kid who understands that physical part of the game. It’s not just about covering guys. It’s not just about breaking up passes or intercepting the ball. It’s also about being a great tackler. His closing speed is second to none.
“He would tell you he is still hungry and wants to continue to get better, so that’s what we’re continuing to work on and take him to another level.”
Niblett said Marlon’s speed translates easily to the football field.
“He’s a sub 4.3-second guy in the 40,” he said. “He is a hurdle runner. He has great hip flexibility. You can’t run the hurdles if you don’t have that. Speed-wise, he is just a very gifted kid. It’s not a thing where he just woke up one day and was fast, either. He has worked hard at it.
“He wants to master the trait of whatever he is doing. You can see that in football practice or basketball practice. He is a special kid. He wants to finish on top. That’s what makes him so special.”
Bobby Humphrey talked about some of his son’s traits as a corner.
“What Marlon has, he has speed and he has long arms,” he said. “When you have the speed to be able to turn and run with receivers and be able to jam receivers with your long arms and bat balls down, that’s what is so special about him. It’s tough to beat him deep. He can cheat a little bit and play guys in man coverage. But he has confidence in his speed that if somebody wants to try and run by him, he can make it up with his speed.”
And he praises his son for his work ethic as well.
“His track coach told me one time, ‘I could drop Marlon off here at the track and leave. Then I could come back and know that he would have done the workout and that much more,’ ” Bobby said.
“What I told guys when I coached was they had to have some self motivation. There is motivation out of fear and also out of pure ‘I wanna be the best.’ The fear motivation is you’re scared because the coach is going to get on you or the coach isn’t going to start you or play you.
“But when you have that self motivation, you go to the gym and you work on your own and you push yourself when no one else is around. That’s what I think Marlon has. He had it when he was younger and he has it now and it’s paid off for him.”
An Alabama newspaper conducted an online poll in January and Marlon Humphrey was already projected as the front runner to be the state’s Mr. Football award winner this upcoming season.
Gerry Hamilton, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com, said it is easy to see what makes Marlon so special.
"Humphrey is a terrific corner prospect, pure and simple,” Hamilton said. “He has the size, length, quickness and speed desired by college coaches. But when looking at Humphrey, it's more than that. He also has very quick reactions and plus hands and ball skills. Plus, he welcomes physical play.
“He also has the ability, feel, instincts and understanding to play in multiple coverages and schemes. He can press, play off, play man or zone. A final piece of the impressive puzzle when looking at the five-star prospect is he will not enter college as a finished product. His frame has room for strength and weight gains, which only adds to his level of prospect."
So It’s Alabama All The Way, Right?
If this was an election, CNN would probably have enough data from enough reporting precincts to call Marlon Humphrey to Alabama. He attended two Alabama home games last fall and also ventured with family to Dallas to see the Tide’s season opener against Michigan.
“I like the way they produce defensive backs,” Marlon said in a recent interview. “They have had a lot of great ones come through in recent years and Dee Milliner is about to be a top pick this year in the draft. I really like that because I know they would help me develop. I like how coach Saban coaches his guys."
He did have some comments on some of his other top choices, though, including:
South Carolina: "(Secondary) coach (Grady) Brown came and talked to me, and I really liked the things he said. He seems like a really good guy to play under. So I want to get down there and see how it goes. He said if I do what he wants me to do, I could play early."
Florida: "They’ve sent me some Facebook messages, and that’s a school I could see myself attending. I like how they do things down there."
It seems like it will be a while until Marlon finalizes his college choice. In the meantime, football fans should be able to enjoy watching him as a senior at Hoover.
“I don’t need to rush anything,” Marlon said.
Click here for video highlights of Humphrey in action.
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