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Lucky Indeed

North Hollywood tailback is hot prospect who resisted transfer

September 02, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Dealing with oncoming linebackers is easy for North Hollywood's Marlon Lucky. Being the center of a whirlwind of attention, however, has been a lot harder.

Letters and calls from college coaches, much like the accolades in national publications, are suddenly coming fast and furious for Lucky, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior running back being pursued by co-national champions USC and Louisiana State, along with Nebraska, Florida, Washington and Oregon State.

"I have to like it," said Lucky, 17. "It's kind of hard, though, because you answer the same questions all the time."

That's what happens when you are selected the top player at the Nike high school football camp in San Diego, as he was in April, and are ranked as the No. 3 running back in the country, as he was by one national publication.

"It's a pretty nice position to be in," North Hollywood Coach Brad Ratcliff said.

Never has Ratcliff seen a hotter commodity among college recruiters, which makes it paramount, he says, that Lucky maintain the same focus in the classroom as he has on the playing field to realize his dream of playing in the NFL.

"Between his guardian, his uncle and myself, we kind of convinced him that he still needs to qualify and get his SAT score," Ratcliff said.

Lucky has worked at improving his grades in his core classes, a concept he didn't quite understand until he and his coach attended a camp at USC in February.

"All this is nice and I suppose adulation is always great," Ratcliff said. "But he's to the point where he needs to work to get all this that's coming to him."

There is no question about Lucky's ability on the football field.

Despite missing one game last season, Lucky rushed for 1,772 yards, averaging 8.6 yards a carry, and had a City Section-best 30 touchdowns. He also played safety and linebacker on defense and kicked three field goals.

Lucky has the size to break through would-be tacklers and the speed to elude them. Ratcliff said that talent was obvious during his sophomore season.

"He split time with a senior running back and he still managed to go over 1,000 yards," the fifth-year coach said. "He's the real deal. He can run, he can catch the ball and he can block."

North Hollywood has designs on unseating perennial Sunset Six League champion Van Nuys Grant and making it to the City Section Championship division playoffs.

North Hollywood players say they are fortunate to have -- and to keep -- their standout tailback.

"You'd expect a guy like that to transfer to a Taft or a Birmingham or a Venice," quarterback William Cowan said. "It's cool that he stayed here. I've got a lot of respect for him."

Without naming schools, Lucky said he was offered a number of opportunities to transfer just in the last few months. When asked why he didn't leave, he simply pointed at Ratcliff and said, "He's been helping me since the ninth grade."

Being at North Hollywood under the watchful eye of the coach; his uncle, Stanley Joseph, and a number of other nearby relatives provided Lucky with the stability he didn't have growing up in Dallas.

Lucky, who came to California at 12 to live with Joseph, has four siblings who still live in Dallas but not with their mother, who was ordered to give up custody because of personal problems. Lucky chooses not to talk about their strained relationship but says he does try to visit her whenever he returns.

"As coaches," Ratcliff said, "we try to give him a lot of advice and we always try to point him in the right direction."

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