TAMPA — With each of his 119 collegiate catches, the irony grew a bit more glaring. At least it did to those who truly know his heritage, and his heart.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the former USF wideout who appears destined to earn a comfortable living as a receiver, prefers to be a giver.
"We're just fortunate to be blessed with the things that we have," said his father, Marcellus Scantling. "I learned it from my mother; my mother's always been a very giving person. She's always taught us to give … and that's just how we've been raised. It's just natural."
And so it was on Christmas morning, Valdes-Scantling ran his most significant down and out.
More specifically, he ran to the down and out. Before opening one gift, Valdes-Scantling, his folks and a couple of buddies loaded the bed of Marcellus' silver Nissan Titan with roughly 60 donated duffel bags filled with blankets, toiletry items, socks, hand sanitizer and the like.
Then they drove to various parts of downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg and gave them to the homeless.
"People were just running up to the trucks like, 'Can I get one?… I need one … Merry Christmas,'" recalled Valdes-Scantling, who had spent the previous weeks planning the gesture and accepting donations.
"It was breathtaking to see the essential things that people need. They're in dire need of it, and to be able to give it to them was a great feeling."
I do this for for the man upstairs, for motivation and inspiration. I hope I can inspire at least one person to go out and help others. You never know what someone is going through or what a small gesture can do to someone’s life. Be grateful for the things you do have. God Bless pic.twitter.com/HcOCc1qCHZ— Marquez V-S (@MVS__11) December 25, 2017
Less than three weeks before the NFL draft, Valdes-Scantling — a tantalizing combination of stature (6-foot-5, 208 pounds) and fleetness — is projected as a late-round prospect. CBSSports.com pegs him as the 40th-ranked receiver in the draft; NFL.com's Lance Zierlein projects him as a seventh-round pick.
Though he set USF's single-season receiving yardage record (879 yards) last season, scorched the 40-yard dash (4.37 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine and had a drop-free pro day on campus in late March, questions remain about his hands and route skills.
For a player on the draft bubble such as this Lakewood High alumnus, character can be a tiebreaker of sorts. In Valdes-Scantling's case, he has a veritable lifetime of benevolence on his resume.
Raised less than 3 miles from Lakewood in a two-parent home with a younger brother and older stepbrother, Valdes-Scantling's family has participated in charitable endeavors all his life.
Volunteer work with Metropolitan Ministries, home construction with Habitat for Humanity, and turkey handouts during holiday season were parts of the family's rhythmic pulse. The blight of his own neighborhood fostered an appreciation for what he had — and what others didn't have.
"That environment, it's tough," said Valdes-Scantling, who earned a communications degree from USF. "You see a lot of gangs, you see a lot of killings, you see a lot of homeless people, you see a lot of drug addicts. So just seeing those things every day, it humbles you to say, 'Okay, this is where I came from. This is where I don't want to be.'"
The duffel-bag brainstorm occurred late in the fall. Valdes-Scantling and his dad were leaving Pinellas Community Church, where the pastor had just delivered a message about one's purpose in life.
"So when we got out of church I asked him, 'What's your purpose in life?'" Marcellus said. "He said, 'Dad, I really want to help the homeless people.'"
Urging his son to act right away, Valdes-Scantling set the wheels in motion. He solicited donations via social media, and found a partner at a Tampa Boys & Girls Club that collected the items.
"Everything was donated," Marcellus said.
"We had dentist offices from California that donated all kinds of dental kits, floss. We had local people donating blankets. Some of the players at the school donated duffel bags, and someone from the school donated some shirts and stuff like that. It was just a bigger hit than you could ever imagine."
It will have an encore. Valdes-Scantling plans to make his duffel-bag giveaway a tradition. Ultimately, he wants to open his own homeless shelter in St. Petersburg.
Because life never runs low on down-and-out patterns.
"That is one thing that I have always dreamt about doing," he said.
"I've seen so many homeless people down in St. Pete. And I just don't want it to be a shelter where they can just come and stay, I want it to be kind of like a rehabilitation center, where they can learn how to get back into the community, and get a job and get a place to live."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.