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Dropout Nation’s Marcus Finally Gets to Play Ball

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Watch Dropout Nation, FRONTLINE’s look at one Texas high school’s effort to save its students.

When we last saw Marcus, the stubborn, charismatic student in Dropout Nation, he had just punched another kid in the face two hours from the end of the school year. The blow threatened his chance to stay in school and play football, his beloved sport.

“I wasn’t trying to jeopardize all that,” he said then.

FRONTLINE caught up with him in September to find that he had returned to school — but he still didn’t know whether he would be eligible to play. Marcus lives for football: “You can actually hit somebody and not get in trouble for it,” he says.

Since the school year began, Marcus had been working hard to prove he has changed, Sharpstown High School officials said. He has been coming to school on time every day, keeping up his grades and practicing hard with the football team.

His goal: to be eligible to play in the big game against his old school, Wheatley High, on Oct. 5. “I basically have to play,” he said weeks ago.

Marcus got the nod the morning of the big game from the oversight body for Texas’ high-school sports. Sharpstown Principal Rob Gasparello and Dallas Blacklock, the head football coach, delivered the news.

“Marcus was like, ‘What? For real?'” Blacklock said. “Immediately after, he came and grabbed me, hugged me, was crying. He said, ‘They gave me a shot, man.'”

Marcus, a quick runner, started the game as a free safety. At the kickoff, the ball landed right in front of him, and he snatched it up and ran it back for about eight yards.

“When he came to the sidelines, I could tell he was anxious, a little nervous,” Blacklock said. “I just said, ‘Hey man, we’re happy you’re out here.’ He said, ‘I’m happy to be out here, Coach!'”

Marcus delivered about seven tackles during the game. Toward the end, he intercepted a pass and ran it back 85 yards for a touchdown. Ultimately the play was called back because of a penalty, but Sharpstown won the game, 43-0.

His coach said Marcus appears to be changing off the field, too. A few days ago, another fight broke out in the cafeteria. “Lo and behold, there was Marcus down there,” Blacklock said. “But this time, he was breaking it up.”

Marcus will still have to work hard if he’s going to be recruited to play college ball. Blacklock said he’s so far behind that he’d likely have to attend a junior college first, just to become eligible for a four-year university.

And for now, he needs to keep passing his classes so he can keep playing — and finish high school.

“It’s not over, it’s still a journey for us,” Blacklock said. But he added: “I’m so glad we didn’t give up on him. It shows that that inkling of hope you saw in that kid, you were right about it.”

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