Norwalk, Calif. » Not two months after his release from the University of Utah football team, he crumpled onto a Compton street corner as two fresh gunshot wounds began a deep smolder.
One bullet had passed straight through. It would be more than a month before doctors could remove the other from his lower abdomen.
But when they don’t kill you, gunshots eventually heal. There’s no scar tissue for the pain that Alphonso Marsh feels when he turns on the TV at his cousin’s house and watches the Utes take the field without him.
A lithe 6-foot-2 cornerback whom coaches are seemingly obligated to refer to as "prototypical," Marsh fears he will become one of the handful of signees in most Division I recruiting classes who will not only never play a down, but never make it to their second season with the team.
Marsh was a true freshman last fall when he forfeited his scholarship at the U. He says he left to help his struggling mom and dying grandmother; his former high school coach suspects he was homesick; he heard rumors that he was too dumb, too street, or just not good enough. Whatever the reason, as soon as Marsh was released he again became a potential recruit, and NCAA regulations prohibit his former team from even publicly acknowledging that he still exists.
Even when that, in and of itself, is quite a story.
California love » Salt Lake City is separated from Los Angeles by little more than dust and rocks, yet some in Marsh’s high school circle had never heard of it.
In the buildup to signing his letter of intent on local TV, friends of the Dominguez High School standout were sure he’d join fellow Dons cornerback Brandon Beaver at the University of Washington in Seattle. Marsh says Beaver even grabbed him in the halls and begged him not to sign with Utah.
It was too late. On his official visit in January, Marsh fell hard for the mountain majesty — "That was my first time being in snow," he says — and then-defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a (now with Wisconsin) convinced his family that no other school cared as much about the teen’s well-being.
"It’s a great situation for [inner-city recruits] when they get up here and get into an environment that is markedly different from what they are used to," says Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "In a way, it’s a breath of fresh air for them."
Although crime has declined in Compton since N.W.A. popularized it as America’s murder capital in the late ’80s, the violence still lives up to its ugly reputation. In 2012, the FBI reported 21 cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in the L.A. suburb of roughly 98,000 — 17 times Utah’s rate.
Compton and neighboring cities are just as flush with future Division I athletes, and Dominguez High’s list of distinguished alumni includes one of the best defensive backs in the NFL, Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowler Richard Sherman, as well as 10 other Pac-12 cornerbacks.
But for every Richard Sherman, thousands are left to wonder "What if?"
Out of Compton » There is no way to know what Alphonso Marsh is like on the streets of Compton, or why somebody tried to kill him.
Sitting in the football field bleachers at sleepy Cerritos College, where he’s a redshirt sophomore working on his associate degree so he can sign with a Division I team in spring 2015, Marsh is polite and looks you in the eye when he talks. The eager 19-year-old frequently describes the male figures in his life as "like a big brother" or "like a father."
The youngest of Curley Rachal’s four children, Alphonso Marsh Jr. was born and raised in Compton, and that’s where the consistency in his life ends. His last memory of his father until recently was, at age 6, watching him beat his mother. Marsh Sr. was hauled off and convicted of spousal abuse, and Marsh’s mom and grandmother — both named Curley Rachal — took turns being dad.
"Boo," as they called him, was "active, vibrant, but quiet at times," says his mother, who worked nights at Bank of America. When Marsh wasn’t shooting hoops, he’d play with his toy cars at home.
His childhood was short-lived.
Marsh was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and battery in seventh grade after he and five friends were hazing a younger student and broke his nose. He spent six months in a correctional camp. Then, when he was in ninth grade, one of his closest friends, Travion Johnson, was shot and killed in nearby Willowbrook.Next Page >
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