SARASOTA — Long before juking a Cincinnati linebacker out of his cleats en route to USF lore Saturday night, Bulls tailback Marlon Mack found himself indirectly linked to another part of local football history.
Backpedal to the Class 4A state semifinal in 2005, Armwood vs. Miami juggernaut Booker T. Washington. Remember Justin Hickman's tying 6-yard scoring pass to Lance Tillison with eight seconds left? That's Mack's half-brother, Tornadoes junior cornerback Deon Woods, getting beaten in single coverage.
"For some reason, my safety at the time … we had miscommunication," said Woods, whose team fell 36-35 when the Hawks made the ensuing two-point conversion. "And the guy caught a good pass."
Now segue from the fade route to the fate route. Had Mack's family remained in its three-bedroom apartment in Miami's hardscrabble Overtown neighborhood, Mack would have been playing for that Booker and not Sarasota Booker. Who knows, the scholarship offers may have been more plenteous. So would the pitfalls.
"Miami is not the city you want to grow up in," Woods said.
So shortly after Woods graduated, Marlo Mack and his wife, Demetris Woods-Mack, packed up their belongings and brood — three boys — and moved to Sarasota. Marlo worked two cooking jobs (still does) while Demetris completed her bachelor's degree in criminal justice at USF.
Between shifts and classes, they immersed themselves in their sons' lives: as coaches, concession workers, constant presences.
Saturday night at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, their vantage point for their youngest son's 49-yard scoring run was the same one they have occupied his entire career.
"Oh man, my parents are very big," said Mack, who became USF's career rushing leader with that fourth-quarter burst. "My dad was the one who pushed me in football, my mom pushed me in school. They made sure my head was on straight. They made sure I never stayed out (late), so they've been the biggest part of my career."
This is the backstory of Mack's story. The vision, torque and fleetness are mostly natural endowments.
"He's probably the fastest running back that we've seen in a while," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said.
But the humility and work ethic were spawned elsewhere: by a dad who rises daily at 3 a.m. to cook breakfast at a Sarasota hotel, and a social worker mom who spends her days at a local YMCA trying to find families for kids before they land in the state system.
"It's a story that screams work, from both mom and dad," said Recharde Goodwyn, Mack's defensive coordinator for two seasons at Sarasota Booker, where Mack was named the Sarasota Herald-Tribune defensive player of the year as a senior.
"They've always been extremely supportive parents. They've never missed a game that he's played in, no matter where we were."
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Marlo and Demetris, married 17 years, have been together nearly a quarter-century. They knew of each other as fellow underclassmen at Miami Beach Senior High before Marlo transferred to Miami Senior, where he played cornerback for the Stingarees alongside future Florida Gator linebacker Ben Hanks.
Neighborhood chums included south Florida basketball legends Allen, Douglas and Steve Edwards, who ultimately starred for Kentucky, FSU and Miami, respectively. From the living room of his modest yellow house in Sarasota, a half-mile from the Baltimore Orioles' spring training home, Marlo speaks proudly of his south Florida roots.
Like many peers, he hailed from a single-parent home.
"My dad was a part of my life, he was in my life, but he wasn't in my house," Marlo said.
He and Demetris made a commitment early on to avoid that scenario, to hold academics and accountability in high regard. Their philosophy: It's one tree, y'all are the branches. We need to keep the tree going upward.
"My main thing with (Marlon), even with all my kids, is do your part," Marlo said. "I am the father, I do my part. I provide, I do whatever I need to do at my end. You go to class, you do this, you stay out of trouble, that's your part."
Marlo holds up his end to this day. In addition to his red-eye hotel shift, he works three nights a week at a local steakhouse. Yet during his youngest boy's prepubescent years, he still found time to help coach his Sarasota Ringling Redskins youth teams.
Demetris has more stable work hours but still does shifts in the concession stands at Booker and remains on the school's booster board — three years after Marlon's senior season.
Vacation days are used by the couple for USF road trips. They've been to Syracuse and Cincy this year, with a trip to Philadelphia (Oct. 21 vs. Temple) on deck.
"My dad has had two jobs for the longest time," Marlon said.
But consider the compensation: Deon is a dad of two working for UPS. Marlo Jr. works and attends junior college in Sarasota. Marlon, 20, has run for more yards (2,755) than anyone to ever wear a USF uniform.
Moments after eclipsing Andre Hall's 11-year-old mark (2,731) Saturday, he thanked his offensive line over the years, as well as receiver Tyre McCants for a downfield block that helped spring his 49-yard run. Then he was finished.
Marlon Devon Mack doesn't say much. At all. His mom says she can't recall him ever getting into a fight. Ask anyone, the kid's as reserved as they come.
So is his place in USF history.
"I've had teammates that have played in the NFL," said Goodwyn, who played at Delaware State. "But I've never been around someone that's as humble as he is, and that's attributed to his parents."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.