From QB to coach

TAMPA – Four years ago, he was busy completing his career at USF – the best career a quarterback has ever had in the program’s 10-year history.

Two preseason stints in the NFL later, Marquel Blackwell is done playing football and is concentrating on a coaching career.

Blackwell, the owner of nearly every passing record at USF, is in his first season at Freedom High School, where he is the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach.

“He’s a huge help this year,” Freedom’s first-year head coach Leon Brockmeier said. “Coach Blackwell and myself played in the same college-type of offense, so we’re on the same page.”

After finishing his senior season in 2002, Blackwell left USF as the school’s all-time leader in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes – all records that have yet to be touched.

Blackwell always knew he would have a career in football after college, but he never made it past the NFL preseason (the Jets in 2003 and the Buccaneers in 2004). If he couldn’t play professionally, he saw coaching as the next best thing.

“I’m football all the way – 100 percent,” Blackwell said after Freedom’s practice Monday. “That’s it, nothing else. I feel I’m a great people person and I could do any kind of work, but I’m a football guy. That’s something I love, and I was always taught you need to do what you love to do.”

Since starting at Freedom in the Patriots’ second game this season, Brockmeier said Blackwell has made an immediate impact on his players, giving them firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to play at the collegiate level.

Senior Andrew Carr, Freedom’s starting quarterback, said Blackwell is one the best coaches he’s ever had. Carr appreciates having a young coach who is just four years removed from being a starting quarterback in college.

“He’s been there. He knows what he’s doing,” said Carr, who passed for 214 yards Friday night in the 19-7 win against Bloomingdale. “It gives him a better feel of the game, because (for) people that (were) there a while ago, times have changed.”

USF has come a long way since Blackwell’s departure in 2003. In the post-Blackwell era, the Bulls have entered the Big East Conference and played in the school’s first bowl game.

While he may have missed out on USF’s recent football success, Blackwell hasn’t cut ties with the Bulls. He said he stays in contact with many USF players, from members of the first team in 1998 to players on this year’s team. Blackwell also still talks to coach Jim Leavitt and offensive coordinator Rod Smith, who both give him advice on coaching.

“It’s something that’s in me; I can’t even describe it,” Blackwell said about his passion for USF football. “It will always be in me. It will always be a part of me. It was a big part of my life.

“I know I sacrificed and I dedicated everything that I had to that program. When you put in time (and) you dedicate your heart and soul into something, it means a lot to you.”

Blackwell’s involvement with the Bulls doesn’t stop with talking to the players and coaches. During summer two-a-day practices, he often made it out to practice, and he attends home games when he has time.

Although he prefers watching USF games from the sidelines so he can focus on the game without distractions, Blackwell is planning on bringing some of his high school players to sit in the stands for the Bulls’ homecoming game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 4. And with three more regular-season games on Freedom’s schedule, his players will have an incentive to play well.

“I’m going to get some of the guys and get them out there,” Blackwell said. “They’re going to have to earn it, though. I’m not giving them anything for free. If we don’t win, then they’re going to buy their own ticket.”

It’s been less than two months since Blackwell’s coaching career began, but he hopes his experience at Freedom will lead to a lifelong coaching career – be it in high school, college or the pros.

“Definitely I want to get to the college level, because that’s all football,” Blackwell said. “This is something right now just to get me going, to get me into the whole picture of the coaching aspect. I just wanted to get out here to see what it’s like – try to prepare myself for that next step.”

That next step could be at the collegiate level. Blackwell said getting a job as a graduate assistant is a possibility, and while he has already talked to a few colleges, he wouldn’t confirm or deny whether USF is one of those schools.

Leavitt believes Blackwell will be successful in whatever he pursues in life, and there is always a chance that the former four-year starter could end up with a position at USF in the future.

“I could see Marquel doing anything in the future and being awfully good at it,” Leavitt said. “We’d love to have Marquel here. We’d be very fortunate and honored to have him.”