By Alvin Richardson
Let me introduce you to Marcellus Joshua Webb. If that name doesn’t ring a bell maybe you’ll recognize him as just plain old M.J. For the past four years fans of Morgan County football have had the pleasure of watching this young giant come of age. Although he’s just about to celebrate his 18th birthday he has already made his mark in the history books of MCHS as it relates to football. M.J. is undoubtedly the most highly recruited player in school history and although Morgan County has had other players win scholarships to major universities none have created a stir like young M.J. Webb who is headed to the University of South Carolina to play football for Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks.
Even though he has taken on celebrity status M.J. has remained grounded and hasn’t allowed his new-found fame go to his head. If you ask his teachers and fellow students they will all tell you that M.J. is one of the nicest guys around. He goes out of his way to make new students feel at home and has a gaggle of friends who will attest to the genuine nature of this young man.
Although he is just a teenager M.J. has some serious goals in mind and one of them is to graduate early from Morgan County High School (in December) and enroll early (in January) at South Carolina. At present that goal is right on track and he is in the process of finishing up the last of his academic requirements in order to achieve an objective that has been one of his top priorities. M.J. told me this week that he has been hard at work with extra academic duties that includes a pair of dual enrollment classes so he can enter USC at the beginning of the winter semester.
Perhaps no one is more familiar with M.J.’s journey from shy freshman to the young man he has become than Morgan County head football coach Bill Malone. Malone has watched his young star grow up and noted, “I have enjoyed watching M.J. mature through this process that began in Sanford Stadium when Coach Mark Richt was the first to offer M.J. a scholarship. He has grown so much in the past three and a half years that if you talk with him today you can’t believe that he was once shy and unsure of himself in any situation. I’ve watched him transform from an introverted kid into an outgoing young man. He has meant a lot to me and to our team and our school. He’s the kind of guy that everybody, even UGA fans ought to root for.”
All other things aside there’s still plenty of business at hand. M.J. and his Morgan County teammates are in the middle of a promising season in which the Bulldogs find themselves with a 4-2 record. So what’s his goal for the team? M.J. will quickly tell you that their number one priority is to win the region title and then go as far in the state playoffs as they can. When asked how the team could win Morgan County’s first region title since 2003 M.J. replied, “We just need to focus on our games one week at a time.” Sounds like a coach talking right there.
Of course winning region titles are easy to talk about but very difficult to come by and I asked M.J. why he thinks that this team has what it takes to bring home that title. He quickly and confidently replied, “More than any other team I’ve played on this one has a group of guys who are excited about playing and who have great practice habits. Everyone hustles in every drill and listens to the coaches. Those two things make a big difference when Friday night rolls around.” That’s not the kind of analysis you normally hear from a teenager in assessing his team and it’s just another tidbit that shows M.J. Webb is a special kid.
Special kids however don’t get that way without a lot of help and M.J.’s face lights up when he talks about his grandmother Shirley Elder who raised him. “She is the rock in my life. She taught me to be polite, respectful and to work hard at school and there’s no way I would be where I am without her,” M.J. said. Others who have impacted his life have been head coach Bill Malone, defensive coordinator Allen Crowley, defensive line coach Dusty Sidwell, math instructor Jim Ignoffo and friend Jeff South. M.J. credits each of them with helping him grow as a player and as a person. He noted, “Coach Malone has helped me through the difficult process of recruiting, Coach Sidwell works us hard but really cares for us and Coach Crowley is just a legend in my mind. He could be coaching in college somewhere if he wanted to.” M.J. also praised his math instructor Jim Ignoffo and said, “Mr. Ignoffo has helped me since my freshman year to stay on top of my grades.” As for Jeff South M.J. said, “He and his wife have helped and encouraged me in more ways than anyone will ever know.”
Like any teenager M.J. has a group of close friends he can count on. He talked about Keandre Williams, Malik Chapman and Joel Alcarez as his best buddies who have all been together for many years. “We’ve been side by side on the field since recreation ball and Joel’s daddy coached us back then,” he said. “It’s going to be hard when I go away because we won’t see each other very much but we’ll stay in touch.”
And then there’s South Carolina. Wondering why he chose USC I asked him what swayed his decision and he replied, “Columbia is beautiful and coaches Muschamp and Thompson (defensive line coach) just made me feel like a part of their family. I could see myself going to South Carolina even if football was not in my future because I liked the campus and town so much.” On the topic of his intended area of study M.J. indicated that he was going to pursue a degree in criminal justice. “I would like to maybe get into the F.B.I. at some point and South Carolina has a great program in that area,” he said.
Finally there’s the responsibility of being in the public eye and a role model for younger kids. For an eighteen year old M.J. has a solid grasp of this obligation and told me, “I want to be seen as a person who always does the right thing all the time because you never know when a kid is watching and I want them to benefit from my example.” His advice to those youngsters who enjoy sports and aspire to play in high school or college was right on target when he said, “You have to be coachable. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, if you don’t listen to your coaches you will never get any better.” He added, “I would also say that you need to stay on top of your grades from beginning to end. It does you no good to be a talented athlete who can’t get in school because you were lazy.”
So keep an eye out for this special young man in the near future. You will likely see him on South Carolina’s defensive line butting heads with the best football players in the land but whether he goes on to stardom at the collegiate level or not he’ll be making an impact on the lives of others just by the way he lives his life.
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