The Dream

Marlon Humphrey will live out NFL fantasy

Written by Alec Etheredge
Photos by Dawn Harrison and Crimson Tide Photos/UA Athletics

As fireworks lit up the night sky to illuminate Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Wednesday, May 10, it wasn’t the conclusion of a Birmingham Barons game, it wasn’t the end of the SEC baseball tournament or the annual July 4, celebration, no — it was something much more special to one individual who had spent 20 years and 10 months chasing after one lifelong dream.

It’s a dream that many young kids set their sights on, but one that is faint in the distance and takes the most perplexing of maps to decipherer how to reach the seemingly evasive destination. It’s the dream of reaching the National Football League. A dream that former Hoover Buccaneer and Alabama Crimson Tide standout Marlon Humphrey now has the ability to call a reality.

With a father in Bobby Humphrey, who was also an Alabama standout and NFL Pro Bowler, you may think Marlon had an easier path to reaching that dream, but his story is no different than anybody else’s. With a 6.8-percent chance of going from high school football to college, and a 1.5-percent chance to go from the NCAA to the NFL, he put in hours and hours of hard work every day to make his dream come true.

 Starting as a Buccaneer

 That realization that his dream could come true started in the spring of his eighth grade year when his head football coach at Hoover High School, Josh Niblett, saw firsthand there was something special about the young athlete.

“We were doing team drills and I looked over and he’s on the right side of the offense,” Niblett said. “I knew one thing that spring; offensively he didn’t have much in him.

“However, when he was over there as the corner, we couldn’t even throw the ball over to that side of the field. It was hard enough to get the ball off anyways, but then we throw it over there and he picked every one of them. I knew he had a chance to be special just by looking at him because I had never seen a young man of his age carry themselves the way he carried himself.”

Niblett said Marlon can beat anybody at anything because he believes he can do it and during the spring before even becoming a freshman in high school, he flashed that luminous skill for the first time to coach Niblett, who eventually put him in the varsity lineup as a freshman in high school — a reward that wasn’t taken lightly for Marlon playing on one of the best high school football programs in the country.

This was his emergence as a standout athlete.

It didn’t take long for the Hoover star to separate himself from the rest of the athletes at his school. He went on to lead the Bucs to back-to-back state championships and a 30-0 overall record in 2012 and 2013 as well as finishing his high school track and field career as an 11-time state champion.

His extremely gifted athletic talent led him to being considered as one of the top 20 recruits in the country, and the No. 1 recruit in Alabama during the class of 2014.

While many colleges marveled at the sheer athletic ability that Marlon possessed, only one would capture his heart. You could argue it was Nick Saban and his recruiting, or the success rate of sending players to the NFL, but to Marlon and his family, the decision was an easy one as he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and attend the University of Alabama.

Dad’s footsteps

Bobby Humphrey attended the University of Alabama from 1985 to 1988 donning the No. 26 in crimson and white. During his time with the program, he established himself as one of the best running backs in school history.

Once his collegiate career had come to an end, he had run for 3,240 yards, which at the time was a school record. Marlon from a young age wanted to be just like dad, which led him to playing running back growing up before Niblett switched his position to the other side of the ball to play defensive back.

While his position changed, Marlon’s dream didn’t. Twenty-nine years after his father, Marlon made the leap by jumping to the college football powerhouse. He redshirted his freshman season, but exactly 30 years after his dad, Marlon suited up in the crimson and white as he became the second Humphrey to embrace the No. 26 jersey for Alabama.

“It’s not Bobby Humphrey, it’s Marlon’s dad when I walk in a room now,” Humphrey said at the Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, March 16.

Bobby went on to have an impressive rookie season with the Denver Broncos after being taken in the 1989 supplemental draft. He rushed for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns helping lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl. He followed his rookie season up with an impressive Pro Bowl season in 1990.

His career in the NFL, however, was short-lived because of a decision to hold out for a new contract in 1991. He went the majority of the season without playing, losing his starting job and starting the downward trend toward the end of his career.

“Everybody needs to value their time,” he said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

This is something Marlon is hoping to do as he tries to have a prolonged career, and something his father wants to make sure he realizes to keep similar misfortunes from happening. With the amount of dedication and hard work he has focused on since being a young adult, there is no part of Marlon that wants to come up short of his goals.

The Wall

“The Wall,” as it’s known in his house and highlighted by his older sister Breona in a draft day video, is a wall of accolades and goals Marlon made when he was younger.

Anytime he had a big track meet or accomplishment he made sure to put a memento from the event on the wall. It’s now covered in quotes, All-American crowns, track number bibs, medals and even his goals for the NFL combine that he posted on the wall in ninth grade.

He wrote down that he wanted to run a 4.39 40-yard dash, wanted to weigh 185 pounds and be 6-foot-1.

While off on those numbers, his NFL combine was eerily similar to what he sketched out almost seven years prior. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, weighed 197 pounds and was six feet tall. While you can’t control your height the other two are more than controllable, showing the amount of work and effort he had put in since his ninth grade year at Hoover High School.

What he considered to be the biggest part of his wall, however, is an etched out Under Armor sticker with “National Football League, The Dream,” written on it and underlined twice.

“The Dream” come true

On Thursday, April 27, it all came to a head. Everything he had wanted and posted on that wall as a goal since being a little kid was finally at the forefront as the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft began.

Projected as a mid-to-late first rounder by most, Marlon nor his family quite knew what to expect.

As the first 15 picks in the draft went by without Humphrey’s name being called, we were right around halfway through the first round when he casually accepted a phone call from the Baltimore Ravens.

Marlon seemed a little unsure as to why exactly they were calling before he realized, this was the moment; the moment that “The Dream” had finally arrived. He immediately dropped off the couch to one knee holding his eyes between his left index finger and thumb to try and prevent himself from the inevitable tears to come.

When the person on the other side of the phone, presumably Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, asked if he was crying, he responded with, “No, I ain’t cryin.”

His family at this point is starting to give fist pumps and pats on the back as Marlon humbly continued the phone call before ending with, “thank you, I’m fired up coach.”

He then completely busted into tears for a brief second as the realization that the Baltimore Ravens, with the 16th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft had made his “Dream” come true.

“It mainly feels good to just be on a team,” Marlon said humbly. “Definitely happy that all of that is over and I’m on a team now.”

All of his hard work had paid off, and that difference-maker ability and hard work ethic that his high school football coach saw as an eighth grader continued to be noticed by professional organizations and is one of the main reasons Baltimore grabbed him off the board.

“They told me ‘The reason why you are here is because we saw something in you,’ so they told me they just wanted to see that in practice,” Marlon said. “Those were the main conversations I had with the coaching staff. They just repeated that I got here doing me so to keep doing that.”

While the moment has arrived and he has already gone through rookie mini camps, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the dream coming true has necessarily sunk in for the star athlete.

“It’ll probably all finally sink in during that first game,” Humphrey said of the surreal moment. “That will be the first time I get to put on that jersey and really be a Raven. When that happens, I really think it will all sink in that I’ve finally made it.”

While there’s only a .0002 percent chance of a high school football player going on to be drafted in the NFL, Marlon proved to be one of the few thanks to years of dedication and doing the right thing, which earned the trust of every coach he crossed paths with.

“I get emotional when I say this, but I would trust him with anything I have,” Niblett said visibly choking up. “When they called his name out you could have heard me screaming in my entire neighborhood. He is my first draft pick ever, in my entire coaching career.”

While the moment is still surreal and has yet to sink in, Marlon will undoubtedly be adding something new to his “Wall” that will forever cement this moment in time, “Marlon Humphrey, defensive back, Baltimore Ravens. I made the National Football League.”