BY DENNIS SILVA II | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tompkins coach Todd McVey remembers it well to this day.
Then-sophomore Marquis Shoulders, a transfer from Cypress Springs, misread the ball on a kick return in his first junior varsity home game in 2018. Shoulders was clearly frustrated, and McVey approached him to have a quick chat.
“It was his first time out there and he kind of fumbled it a bit,” McVey said. “He got frustrated and I had to give him a talk on the sideline. It was that year of learning for him. That JV year was really good for him. He was our MVP and he got to key in on his craft and it paid off for him.”
So to call Shoulders’ 2019 breakout varsity debut season as one that came out of nowhere wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Still, the 5-foot-8, 145-pounder was a dynamic revelation, compiling 1,050 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, on 9.2 yards per carry, and adding 168 yards and three touchdowns receiving in helping lead the Falcons back to the third round of the playoffs.
Shoulders credits then-senior running backs R.J. Smith and Garrett Mack for helping him acclimate and find his place in varsity football. But, to his own credit, he listened and took advantage of the advice.
“I knew I was well-prepared,” said Shoulders, whose epiphany came when he rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on five carries in a season-opening win against Fort Bend Austin “That first game, I realized I was good enough to play at the next level. I just had to keep working hard. I didn’t know I’d get as many opportunities as I did, but since I got a lot of them, I just took advantage of it. I had two senior running backs ahead of me that had me ready and prepared to play.”
McVey said Shoulders kept getting better and better as the season went on. When Shoulders had to make his first start of the season, in a bi-district playoff game no less, because of an illness to Smith, McVey didn’t even have to say anything.
By then, the coach knew his precociously talented all-purpose back could shoulder whatever burden came his way.
“He got some more opportunities, and like we tell the kids all the time, ‘Make the most of your opportunities,’” McVey said. “He did. We knew that he was fast, we knew he could play. It was just about opportunity.”
The 2019 campaign put Shoulders on the map as an emerging prospect in the recruiting world. On May 17, he verbally committed to Tulsa, where he will be used primarily as a receiver with spot backfield duties.
Shoulders also seriously considered Louisiana. New Mexico State was also in play.
“It’s great academically,” Shoulders said of Tulsa. “When I took my visit, it felt like family. The coaches were persistent as far as sending me notes, handwritten. I felt wanted. I also have some family in Oklahoma, so that made it a more comfortable place.”
Shoulders’ parents are from Oklahoma, but he was born in Cypress. He started his high school career at Cypress Springs before transferring to Tompkins.
He began playing football in kindergarten and has always been a speedster. Shoulders runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. His father, Marvin, had him doing speed and agility drills as a child.
“Running, scoring touchdowns, making people miss. I love that,” Shoulders said. “My teammates, too. I like having fun with the guys and bonding with them.”
Shoulders has been hard at work during this global pandemic. He has gained 10 pounds of muscle and now weighs 155. He wants to play at 165 this next season. He has a God-given gift of ridiculous speed, and because of that, McVey is able to use him as a ballcarrier, receiver and kick returner.
“My speed, my ability to cut on a dime. Going from zero to 100 real quick,” Shoulders said of his strengths. “My acceleration is pretty good, so I can get to full speed pretty fast. My whole family is fast. I think a lot of it is natural.”
Shoulders has been working out with a speed trainer in anticipation of what should be a larger role for the Falcons now that Smith has graduated. He recently spent time on vacation in Oklahoma, where he was able to work out and lift since weight rooms were open.
“I just want to grow as a person and be more of a leader,” Shoulders said. “I’m trying to put on some weight. As a team, I want to get past that third round of the playoffs. We want to go farther than that.”