When former USF football player Marquez Valdes-Scantling signed his second NFL contract with the Kansas City Chiefs for $30 million over three years, it was the culmination of a long journey that at times seemed like a long shot.
After a slow start at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, he earned a scholarship to play at NC State. Ultimately, he returned home to become perhaps the best receiver in USF history and achieved his dream of playing in the NFL.
Despite the road not being the easiest or the most conventional, Valdes-Scantling is grateful for all the challenges and steps he’s taken along the way.
“It’s a blessing,” he said of signing his new deal. “I thank God everyday for just that opportunity, because like I said, without him, I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at now. A lot of hard work, a lot of people involved got me to where I’m at today and I’m so grateful for it.”
During his two seasons with the Bulls from 2016-17, Valdes-Scantling made an immediate impact during one of the program’s most successful stints. Combining with former quarterback Quinton Flowers, he set the school’s record for receiving yards in a single season with 879 in 2017.
He never underestimates how much his time at USF under coach Willie Taggart and his Gulf Coast offense helped in his development.
“I wouldn’t be here, in this position, if I didn’t go to USF,” he said. “Coming in here with [former coach] Willie Taggart and everything that he did for my organization and just winning over two years that I played here. I met a lot of great guys, a lot of great guys that made it to the league, a lot of friends that I’m friends with now, today.”
Long before all of that, however, Valdes-Scantling was just trying to show Lakewood’s legendary coach Cory Moore that he had what it takes to make an impact for the Spartans.
Although he currently stands at 6-foot-5, when Valdes-Scantling first tried out for the team he was extremely undersized for his position, according to Moore who coached him for all four years of high school.
“When Marquez first came out he was extremely, extremely, extremely small, extremely short — even to the point that we couldn’t find a helmet that actually fit him, he was so small,” Moore said. “From there, throughout his process he just continued to grow, get bigger, stronger, faster and he just had a really, really great story, how he went from one level, to another, to the next level.”
Valdes-Scantling went on to have over 1,000 career receiving yards and 20 touchdowns for the Spartans, including 800 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season.
Moore, who’s in his 16th season at Lakewood, has had the opportunity to coach a number of players, including fellow Bull Rodney Adams. He’s not surprised at the amount of success Valdes-Scantling has had since leaving high school.
“No, it’s not surprising because he’s had great work habits, even in high school,” he said. “It followed him from high school to college and where he is now. So he has the right formula and also where he is, whether it’s with his faith and also with his family, he just does a great job preparing himself physically.”
After being drafted by the Packers in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Valdes-Scantling spent four productive seasons with the organization, making two NFC Championship games and serving as the deep threat for four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Now, he’ll play for another perennial contender in Kansas City with its own MVP in Patrick Mahomes. He’ll have a golden opportunity to replace Tyreek Hill in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
“Obviously they’re a winning organization,” Valdes-Scantling said. “Coming from Green Bay, we won a lot there. So, it’s hard to go somewhere where we weren’t winning a lot. And obviously you got Patrick Mahomes and a receiving room that has changed and turned over a little bit.
“It was a great opportunity to go out and showcase my ability.”
Valdes-Scantling now looks forward to the next phase of his career where he hopes to continue to grow as a player. Moore knows he has the ability to reach unprecedented heights over the next few seasons, and he’s excited for the rest of the world to see it too.
“I’m looking forward to it because I think we’re just given a glimpse of how good he is,” Moore said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him take the game of football to the next level. He can and he will.”