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Marcus Singletary — citizen athlete

December 3, 2009

A citizen athlete might be described as an athlete who understands the bigger, broader societal responsibilities that they can have and take on. Marcus Singletary, a senior football player at the University of Minnesota, is one of those citizen athletes.

The profile of Marcus below was written by University of Minnesota communications and political science major Ben Flattum. Marcus initiated and appears in a short video produced by Ben, about a community organizing class taught by Dennis Donovan of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. Click here to see the video.

The cliche preached at most of us from birth is that hard work pays off. Many people do not possess the dedication to test how deeply true this statement holds. But those that do often achieve extraordinary feats that separate them from the commonness of most. While Marcus Singeltary’s ending has yet to be written, the effort put in to get to this point speaks for itself in indicating what will come for one of the most dedicated souls to don the maroon and gold colors of the University of Minnesota.

Marcus grew up in a military family, with a father who served as an intelligence officer in the US Army. Although Marcus spent much of his childhood traveling, he eventually was able to call Hinesville, Georgia, his home. Despite the changing surroundings, one constant remained in the Singletary household. Marcus’s father, Liston, provided the insight and knowledge that provided a foundation of respect, accountability and dedication.

“Everything my dad taught me, I’ve applied to my life,” said Marcus. “(Liston) would always say ‘handle your business.’ So that’s what I’ve done.” For Marcus, football was not part of that business until 11th grade. Already a two-sport star in high school, he was approached by the head football coach about playing. Noting that his best chance at competing athletically in college was football, Marcus jumped at the chance to take up another sport. “I looked at the numbers and it only made sense to play football,” he said. “You have 12 guys on a college basketball team, but there’s a lot more on the football roster.” Displaying the work ethic that has come to define him, Marcus began his career on special teams and eventually worked his way up to starter by the end of his junior season. Finishing out a successful prep career in Hinesville, Singletary then set his sights on playing collegiately. International Falls, Minn., is a long way from Georgia, but that did not deter Marcus from attending Rainy River Junior College. Adjusting quickly, he went on to earn All-Region in football and All-Conference in basketball. With his desire to continue his education at a larger school, Marcus began to look at other colleges. The University of Minnesota was not one of them.

“I originally planned on going to a Christian school in Kansas,” said Marcus. “I happened to run into (Gopher Safety) Mike Rollis’s dad while I was training at Gamespeed in Eden Prairie [Minnesota]. He told me to look at walking on at Minnesota, so I did.” Marcus took out an application and waited for a response, receiving unpleasant news when it came: he was denied. Being a fiscally-minded college student, Marcus went down to the admissions office to attempt to retrieve his application fee. While trying to secure his $50, Liston Singletary’s years of lessons about respect and dedication shined through to the admission counselor, Ms. Harrison. Being so impressed by his politeness and manners, Marcus was directed by Ms. Harrison to a higher-up in admissions and was given a second shot. This time, Marcus received positive news and was admitted into the University of Minnesota. When asked how he convinced the school to change their minds on his status, Marcus simply said, “Respect will take you a long way in life and if you put in the effort for anything, it will end up working out for you.” Despite gaining entrance into the University, there was still a lot of work to be done. In order to play, Marcus needed to complete a psychology credit that was missing from his junior college and would then be forced to sit out a year. Taking everything in stride had become his trademark and would not change because of that. Singletary went on to finish up the required credits for admissions and took a year off, eagerly waiting for his opportunity.

“Of course I wanted to play right away but you have to earn your stripes. Nothing in this world is given to you,” said Marcus. “You’re going to have to prove yourself. As a walk-on, you have to be hungrier than everyone else. When that time comes and you get in the game, you have to make the most of it. You can never let your head down and must constantly have that attitude.” The life of a college walk-on remains far from glamorous. They must work like a scholarship athlete with little of the rewards to motivate. When speaking about what a typical day in summer training, Marcus described his typical week, filled with commitments and energy consuming activities.

“I get up at 5:30 AM and start my day off with the Bible. We have team runs at six in the morning, followed by workouts. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I’ll have a summer class from ten until noon. Then I’m headed to the Nike store in the Mall of America to work for six or seven hours,” said Singletary. This was before fall practices even began, which now take up five hours minimum of his time daily. It takes a special person to endure the hours of training and practice with nothing but an intrinsic motivation to keep them moving. Marcus happens to be one of those people. Despite seeing the field sparingly his junior season at Minnesota, he keeps his head up and realizes there are more important goals to strive for.

“I was always hard on myself, I had to push myself. Not just from an athletic standpoint but from an academic one as well. Sports are complements to your academics, and that’s the way I look at my education. All of my life I’ve had to work hard. I’ve never just received anything without working. I was always taught that hard work pays off and you have to get up and just handle your business.”

With a dedication to academic excellence and the tenacity to work for anything he wants, Singletary occasionally sets his sights ahead to bigger opportunities for himself and others. Looking forward, Marcus sees a life beyond the gridiron and all the possibilities to change the circumstances surrounding it towards a positive direction.

“I want to be able to give back and teach others what I have been taught. If you put in the work, you will reap the benefits. I want to be able to open up doors for people,” Marcus said. “For example, when I walk down the street and see the homeless it just breaks my heart. If I can get a door opened for me, I want to open it for someone else too.”

Given his desire to interact with people and affect change, Marcus has looked into motivational speaking or potentially television as an avenue for his goals. Both seem to fit his strengths of reaching out to others and will give Singletary a chance to show the dedication, passion, and respect inherent in his makeup. Anyone who sees Marcus exhibit the purely genuine and authentic smile, one that all who know him have come to recognize, will realize the great things that lie ahead for the Hinesville native.

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