Newest Raven Marlon Humphrey is just 'one of the guys'

One recent morning as the clock struck 6:30, Josh Niblett noticed someone in a hoodie racing through the monotonous routines of spring football with his Hoover High School players. 

After a few seconds, he recognized the anonymous figure as Marlon Humphrey. 

As the star cornerback of the Alabama Crimson Tide and a soon-to-be first-round pick in the NFL Draft, Humphrey certainly did not need to be up at sunrise, grinding through drills with a bunch of teenagers.  

"He didn't pick and choose either," said Niblett, who coached Humphrey for four years at Hoover. "He did every single one. He just wanted to be one of the guys."  

In many ways, that's the story of the player the Ravens selected 16th overall on Thursday night. He could have spent his life coasting on his remarkable athletic gifts and on the name his father, Bobby, built as an Alabama football great. Instead, he chose to do more than was necessary.   

Humphrey, 20, arrives in Baltimore with an unusually sparkling pedigree, even for a first-round pick. Hoover won state titles his last two seasons there. Then Alabama won a national championship his freshman year. Not to mention his dad finished 10th in voting for the 1987 Heisman Trophy, led the Denver Broncos in rushing and receiving in Super Bowl XXIV and earned a trip to the 1990 Pro Bowl. 

Throw all that together with Humphrey's track-star speed, long arms and natural fluidity, and he was going to be an NFL pick. But in taking him above more highly touted Alabama teammates Jonathan Allen, O.J. Howard and Reuben Foster, the Ravens saw the same something extra that always impressed Niblett. More specifically, they saw how Humphrey loved to throw his body at opposing players.  

"What isn't there to like?" Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said sitting beside Humphrey at his introductory news conference on Friday. "This guy is the most physical cornerback, the most physical defensive back in this entire draft, and this is a good draft for defensive backs." 

Pees recalled his sinking feeling during the waning moments of last year's loss in Pittsburgh, when he realized his secondary was too thin to press the Steelers the way he wanted. 

"I just really can't tell you how excited I am to have this daggone guy," Pees said. 

Humphrey, dressed in a light gray suit, bobbed his head to the music as he watched a Ravens highlight video. His mother flashed a thumbs up as she re-watched footage of him being drafted.   

The newest Raven recalled how his father, the former star running back, actually nudged him away from carrying the ball. "Instead of getting hit," Bobby told him, "you can hit somebody." 

Growing up in a Birmingham suburb, Humphrey was the bluest of blue-chip recruits. 

Not only was his dad Crimson Tide royalty — the recruiting headlines read "Bobby Humphrey's son commits to Tide" — his mother, Barbara, set a school record in the 400 meters at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.  

His older brother, Maudrecus, and his older sister, Breona, were both Division I athletes.  

As a teenage 110-meter hurdler, Humphrey demonstrated potential Olympic speed, posting the second best time at the IAFF Under-18 World Championships in 2013.  

He was the star cornerback at Hoover, only the best team in football-crazed Alabama. The Buccaneers went 30-0 and won two state titles in Humphrey's final two seasons. Nationally, he was a consensus top-20 recruit.  

So Humphrey is the rare player who can say he essentially stayed on course by growing into a first-round NFL pick.  

His parents, however, largely shielded him from the expectations that would come with the family name. 

Bobby cringed when Marlon's older brother did something exceptional and was inevitably referred to as "Bobby Humphrey's son" instead of Maudrecus Humphrey. 

"I kind of worried about the pressure that would be placed on him from outside," he said, regarding Marlon. "You think about the things that I did and my kids coming after me, if you're trying to top what dad did, dad was a two-time All-American. That's a pretty heavy challenge. So what I did was I protected them." 

Bobby did a good enough job that one day, when he visited Marlon's school for lunch, the fourth-grader had no idea why teachers and cafeteria workers lined up for pictures and autographs. 

"Mom, mom, mom, guess what happened today at lunch?" Marlon said when he got home. "It was like dad was famous or something."  

Humphrey said his parents unknowingly kindled his love for the sport by refusing to let him play in fourth or fifth grade. By the time they finally relented in sixth grade, he felt beyond ready. 

"We felt like football is something you've got to want to love and you've got to want to do," Bobby said. "And if you want to do it, you'll keep on asking to do it like I did with my mother." 

Added Barbara: "I always told the children, 'You don't have to play basketball. You don't have to play football. I might've told them they had to run track.' But actually we just told them if you want to do it, let's do it. But if we're going to do it, we're going to do it right." 

Niblett had already coached Humphrey's older brother on his first state-title team at Hoover, and he'd grown up rooting for Bobby Humphrey. So he wasn't exactly surprised when he glimpsed an eighth-grade Marlon Humphrey already taking his stance at cornerback with purpose and precision. 

"He obviously had a chance to be really, really special," the Hoover coach recalled.  

The Humphrey family — both parents and all five siblings — worked out together, and competition was just part of the deal.  

"Family time seemed like it was spent around a track or at a basketball game," Marlon Humphrey recalled. "You always supported your siblings. Being around that was just kind of the way I grew up."  

Niblett sensed the Humphreys even competed over who could sing the best when the family annually recorded a Christmas carol and posted it on social media.  

But he never saw Bobby push his kids to continue his particular legacy. In fact, the youngest Humphrey, Marion, plays basketball and runs track at Hoover but has eschewed football. 

"Every one of them kind of did their own thing," Niblett said. "I think the kids embraced the family legacy it to be honest. I don't think it was an issue for them. Their parents just gave them love wherever they needed it, whether it was that tough love or the more supportive kind."  

For all of Hoover's success, Humphrey became the first Buccaneer selected in the NFL Draft.   

He spoke to Niblett after the Ravens picked him Thursday night and told him "Hey coach, it all started with you." They made plans to visit with each other this weekend.  

"I'm so proud of that guy," said Niblett, who's always preached to his players about building a legacy at the school. "I tell you when I woke up this morning, I probably had my chest poked out a little bit more than usual." 

After his decorated high school career, Humphrey redshirted his first year in Tuscaloosa, the first time in his life he wasn't automatically the best player in his age group.  

But by his second year, he was starting at cornerback opposite former Gilman star Cyrus Jones. He recovered the daring onside kick that helped Alabama swing the national championship game against Clemson. He followed that with an All-American season in 2016, shutting down USC's NFL prospect, JuJu Smith-Schuster, among others.  

Humphrey wrote out a list of lofty goals for himself as a freshman at Hoover and now that he's checked off first-round pick, he burns to play in a Super Bowl and make a Pro Bowl, just like his dad. He said he feels just as drawn to football now as he did the first day his parents let him play in sixth grade.   

"When the game starts, I just feel something special," he said. "I think football's something you have to be pretty passionate about to be good."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ChildsWalker

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
19°