Marquel Wade never gives up.
Just four years ago, his football life seemed finished. In 2009, he’d been a standout receiver for Jacksonville, Florida’s Andrew Jackson High School, a perennial powerhouse whose rivalry game against Robert E. Lee High is such an event that they used to play it in the Gator Bowl. He was heavily recruited by bigtime programs across the South, committing to Arkansas in 2011. He made the All-SEC freshman squad as a special teamer that year.
The Razorbacks were ranked tenth in the polls going into the 2012 season, and they had big plans for Marquel Wade. But a series of well-publicized incidents led to his dismissal from the team and, eventually, a six months’ stint in prison. By the autumn of 2015, the player who was once ranked the 48th best athlete in the nation by Rivals.com was slinging fries at Hardee’s.
“I was just doing whatever it took to make money to support my family,” he said. “I was on probation, too, when I got a call from [the IFL’s] Nebraska [Danger]. At the time I was trying to get my transcripts from Arkansas, trying to go back to school. It was an opportunity to keep playing, to get my foot in the door in the arena game.”
Wade isn’t big (5’11”, 170) but he’s quick and very elusive, perfect for indoor football. He found immediate success in Nebraska in 2016, putting up 309 yards and four touchdowns in just 11 games. The Danger made the conference championship that year. Things were finally starting to look up.
But disaster struck again the next season. Recently signed to the hometown Jacksonville Sharks of the National Arena League, Wade tore his MCL and was placed on injured reserve. Only 25 years old, he had a growing family, no full time job, and, increasingly, no prospects.
“That’s when I got the call from Cedar Rapids,” he says. “I was living with another guy who used to play for Arkansas, working jobs, keeping up with workouts as best I could. My boys Jake Medlock and Javon Bell called me up and said, ‘Come play for Cedar Rapids,’ and it was success right away.”
Wade was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season, the last for the Titans. He led the league in both receptions and yards per game, was second in receiving yards, and tied for third in touchdowns, despite missing two games. But an even deeper tragedy struck: one of his young daughters died of natural causes. “I’m still working through it,” he says. “I’ve got three little girls here and one angel in heaven, and it helps keep me focused, knowing she’s looking down on me.”
Wade carries a heavy burden, both on and off the field. The River Kings are effectively an expansion team, and as one of the few veterans, he’s a stabilizing presence in the locker room. Off the field, he’s thousand miles from home, doing whatever it takes to provide for his family and their future. “Construction, warehouse jobs, whatever I can get in the offseason. I work out whenever I can, whatever it takes. That’s the message I’d give to anyone: Never give up.”
Marquel Wade currently leads all IFL receivers in catches, touchdowns, and receiving yards. The River Kings are back in action on Saturday, March 30, against the Iowa Barnstormers.