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May 1, 2009Players often consider the locker room a second home where they can bond with teammates.
Sadly, that was literally the case for Tulsa receiver Brennan Marion, an undrafted free agent participating in this weekend's Dolphins rookie minicamp. He was homeless for three months of his sophomore season and had to sleep in the locker room at De Anza Junior College near San Francisco.
"There were nights I slept on the bathroom floor, the locker room, the bus or the press box. We had a key,'' said Marion, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder with 4.3 40 speed, who used his arms or paper towels as a makeshift pillow.
"All this just to make my goals and dream come true and now because I didn't get drafted it feels like I did it for no reason. But I'm going to make it work.''
Marion has overcome far tougher obstacles than breaking into a crowded receivers' corps that features a former undrafted college free agent in Davone Bess.
Raised mostly by a single mother, Richelle Bey, Marion attended a different school every year since sixth grade around the Pittsburgh area because, "Mom would have different boyfriends and after a fight would move on.''
"In 10th grade my grandmother, Charlene Marion, suddenly passed, and my cousin was shot so I had to change schools again,'' said Marion, 21. "For my grandma, I vowed I wouldn't give up until I made it.''
After playing just one complete season of high school football at Greensburg-Salem, Marion attended Foothill College in the Bay Area to join childhood friend and linebacker Chuck Thompson.
A difference of opinion with coaches led to another switch to nearby De Anza, where after practice they'd work construction, washing cars, promoting clubs or cleaning classrooms to pay for a $1,300 a month studio apartment.
They were eventually evicted and would "jump house to house'' with teammates before ending up in the locker room where they would often live on "Gatorade, electrolyte pills and the guy at 7-11 would give us free bags of chips and cookies.''
Not long after being frightened by a real homeless person who was unknowingly sharing their bathroom, some teammates told the coaches what was going on.
"I was appalled and couldn't believe it,'' said former De Anza offensive coordinator Darrell Williams, who took both boys into his home to live with his wife and four children. "I recall that Brennan didn't smile much then. I never charged them a dime, but the only thing I asked is that they earn their degree and help someone else out when they get the opportunity.''
Despite the off-field hardships, Marion dominated at every level, putting together three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, including two at Tulsa where he averaged 31.9 yards per catch in 2007 to break a 40-year-old NCAA record. But on the final offensive play of his final game against East Carolina for the Conference USA title, Marion tore his right ACL, which also shattered his draft dreams.
"Three months after his ACL surgery he went out and ran a 4.52,'' said Tulsa coach Todd Graham. "It shows you his great passion and work ethic. Not getting drafted and having to go as a free agent is just another bump in the road for him.
"Miami is getting a young man who has great character, great explosive speed off the ball and will entertain and wow them on the field.''
And Marion did earn that degree in organizational studies. And he is smiling again as he hopes to land a more permanent home on the Dolphins.
"If the Dolphins give me a chance and I'm 100 percent healthy, I guarantee I'll be a big-time playmaker for them,'' Marion said.
This article was originally published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and was reposted with their permission. The author, Harvey Fialkov, writes for the Sun-Sentinel