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Marcus Dupree: The Best That Never Was

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In 1982, as today, recruiting was a blood sport -- it just didn't command the 24/7 coverage that it gets now, thanks to the multiple media outlets that litter the landscape.

I was working for KTBC-TV here in Austin and in early 1982 there was a running back out of Philadelphia, MS. that was achieving legendary status as the most sought after recruit in years. I dug around and got a Mississippi TV station to send us a tape.

After popping the tape into the machine it was clear in seconds that he was what Coach Fred Akers called "A 20-footer." All you had to do was watch 20 feet of film and you knew he was special.

Marcus Dupree is the only high school player I have seen that belongs in the same sentence with Earl Campell at that level.

Dupree is the subject of the latest ESPN "30 For 30" project and it premiered tonight. Dupree was so special that UT Grad Willie Morris, a Mississippi legend in his own right, wrote a book about his recruitment, "The Courting of Marcus Dupree."

The ESPN film looks at how Dupree transformed a small southern town into a national story, and it does a very good job of capturing just how wild, and wide open, recruiting was back then. Texas and Oklahoma were locked in a battle for Dupree down to the end, so much so that Longhorn assistant Tommy Reaux and Sooner assistant Lucious Selmon both took up residence in Philadelphia for the last month before signing day.

The film captures the wild west nature of recruiting in the early 80's, and gives you an idea of just how much of an outlaw turn it would take over the next few years -- helping to lead to the destruction of the SWC.

Switzer admitted that the day Dupree arrived in Norman he was the best player on the team. Still it took a couple of early season losses to get OU to switch to the I formation and feed Dupree the ball. All he did the next week was to help save Switzer's skin. OU was coming off a 7-4-1 year in 1981, and already had two losses in 1982. To top it off, Akers had won 4 out of 5 against Switzer and the Sooners. Switzer was feeling the heat. Dupree changed that with one swift stroke.

As talented as Dupree was, he was totally out of his element in Big Time college football. He was at heart a small town southern boy who didn't understand the demands being placed on him by Switzer and the OU program. He was also being pulled by family and friends back home who saw him as a meal ticket. He almost didn't return to OU for his sophomore season. The film talks about OU's concern over his not coming back, and how Dupree lets it be known that a new double-wide for his mom would be really nice. One appears that summer on her property.

While Dupree did return for his sophomore season, he reported out of shape, and this time the Cotton Bowl game with Texas would finish his stay in Norman. Texas knocked Dupree out of the game and all the way home to Philadelphia.

That's just the halfway point for the film, which goes on to paint a melancholy portrait of Dupree's fall from grace and his attempt to come back. It is a facinating look at how transcendent talent isn't always enough to ensure that it will reach full potential.

Marcus Dupree is a commercial truck driver in his hometown today, and at the end of the film he is shown watching highlights of his high school career. It seems to be an out of body experience for Marcus, who finds himself as facinated by the fireworks on film as those of us who watched it from the sidelines.

ESPN will rebroadcast "The Best That Never Was," Thursday, Nov 11 at 10:30pm on ESPN 2, Sunday Nov 28 at 8pm on ESPN, Sunday Dec 5 at 8pm on ESPN Classic and Saturday Dec 25 at 8am.