Before every football game at Grady High School, Marlon Character Jr., a 4-star defensive back who nearly committed to Auburn this week, finds himself revisiting the same game film over and over and over again.
It’s footage of an all-too-familiar football player, one he grew up playing tee-ball with at Ben Hill Park on the west side of Atlanta as a three-year-old.
How could that kid be so smooth and so quick, Character wonders as he watches him.
His childhood buddy was De’Antre Turman, and together the two were inseparable. They played Pop Warner football side-by-side for eight years, ran track together and — at one point, even lived together.
Even as kids, Character selflessly admits, Turman was a superstar.
“He was my idol,” he said.
Turman, who was a year older than Character, moved away to attend Creekside High, where he starred at cornerback and by his junior season had received a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.
“Everybody knew who he (De’Antre) was, and Marlon was just one of the kids that was fortunate enough to be close to him,” said his father, Marlon Character, Sr.
On August 16, 2013, however, everything changed during a Creekside scrimmage at Banneker High School in College Park.
“I was supposed to go with my friend after school,” Character recalls, “but I wasn’t going to be able to make it because I didn’t have a ride.”
When he arrived home that afternoon, he took a nap only to be awakened by his sister, Chelsea, urging him that they had to head to the hospital.
De’Antre had been injured.
“I’m thinking, ‘Maybe it’s a small injury, maybe it’s not that serious,’” Character said. “You would never think it’s that serious.”
A crowd of people were huddled in front of the entrance way of Grady Memorial Hospital with dozens more praying inside as Character, along with his sister and father, Marlon Character, Sr., pulled in. It couldn’t have been a more sobering moment for the then-15-year-old.
“I already knew what it was,” Character said. “I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew what it was.”
Turman died later that evening as a result of a broken vertebrae in his neck due to blunt force trauma following what appeared to be a routine tackle. He was just 16.
“It was hard at first,” Character recalls. “My family was telling me I shouldn’t play football, it’s too dangerous. My friends were hanging it up.”
He never wavered. After several weeks, he began training again with Turman’s legacy in mind and the words ‘True Love” tattooed across his arm.
“I can’t even put into words how it’s motivated not only him, but an entire group of kids,” said Character, Sr.
“It took him a minute for him to wrap his mind around it.”
Character reunited with his position coach Glenn Ford, Jr., a former defensive back for UGA in the mid-90s, and began to train with even more purpose. So much, Ford says, that he could backpedal effortlessly in his sleep.
Ford, who at one time trained both players together, was around long enough to know just how much Character idolized Turman.
“A lot of us might put the television on and Joe Montana might be our guy, or Deion Sanders,” said Ford.
“But to Marlon, it’s Tre-Tre.”
In the two years since, Character has trained three times a week every week, refining and improving everything and anything.
Not surprisingly, the speedy defensive back has yielded offers from around 20 schools, including Auburn, Alabama, UGA, Ohio State, and South Carolina.
And it would appear Character could be reaching a decision soon on where he wants to play college ball. The 2016 prospect told the AJC that Auburn is now his frontrunner, following an unofficial visit he took Wednesday, with South Carolina trailing behind.
Why Auburn? Character says the coaching staff discussed moving him to free safety to fill the void that will be left behind at the conclusion of next season.
“Coach Malzahn was very interested and excited just to get me down there and commit,” Character said. “He said, ‘Whenever you’re ready to commit. We want you. We need you.’”
The 6-foot, 170-pound Character says “he felt like committing to Auburn” during his visit. However, he wanted to keep his word and take his visit to South Carolina this weekend before making a final decision.
He will also consider taking an official visit to his No. 3 school, Virginia Tech, at a later date.
However, there is no questioning the impact Auburn made.
“I feel like I’ve been there (Auburn) the most out of all the schools,” Character said. “They’ve really grown on me, and if I go back I’ll probably commit.”
Although another visit to Auburn has yet to be determined, Character concedes that there is a good chance he could make a decision between the two schools soon after he returns from South Carolina this weekend.
But wherever he chooses to go, Character says, he will always maintain that enduring motivation.
“Losing De’Antre to football made me even hungrier as far as stepping on the field and giving it my all, and not just for him, but everyone that’s not able to do it.”
— Chuck Kingsbury, Special for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution