The Origin of Speedy: Why Marquez Stevenson's speed hits different

He is the new prototype, a wide receiver who leaves corners in the dust with ease. None of this is by accident either, all the way back to Shreveport, La.

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WESTON, Fla. — This speed should’ve been shut down for good long before everyone knew him simply as “Speedy.” We have no business eating wings at Primetime Restaurant on a sunny Florida day talking all about Marquez Stevenson’s impending takeover of the NFL.

But here we are and Stevenson leaves no doubt.

“I’m the type of person you want on your team,” Stevenson says. “My playmaking ability is second to none.”

He takes a bite of his wing and lets those words sink in.

The Packers, he says, are very interested.  Later this day, Bills receivers coach Chad Hall shoots him a text. There are more decorated receivers in the draft — three SEC wideouts went in the first 10 picks of Round 1 alone. But Stevenson is the modern receiver for the modern game, a true burner who scorched every defense he faced at the University of Houston. He’s always been the fastest human being on every one of his teams, from elementary school right on through college and, no, he doesn’t expect NFL cornerbacks to hang with him, either.

His 40 time (4.45) isn’t too shabby but fails to tell the full story.

His three-cone time of 6.46 seconds is one of the best ever run by a receiver, right in the 100th percentile.

His highlights always leave you wanting more.

It’s fairly simple: When Stevenson steps up to the line, he knows for certain he’ll get separation.

Because Stevenson also knows everything that went into this speed: His roots in Shreveport, La., the torn ACL that could’ve crushed him mentally, his two friends who died while he was in college and, no doubt, all of the work he’s been putting in at the pristine “House of Athlete” a few miles down the road here in Florida. Everything only makes him faster. Stronger. Always. His entire life feels like a steady build to this moment, to being the weapon your offense needs on Sundays.

Maybe people don’t know him well yet. They will.

“I like being under the radar so when I pop up the first time, everybody will be surprised,” Stevenson says. “Everybody who knows me knows what’s going on. I’ve never been the attention-seeking kind of guy. I just know I always work and you can never overlook work ethic.”

There’s football speed. There’s track speed. Then, there’s the rare player who’s a combination of both. Stevenson earned his nickname, “Speedy,” by torching the competition in both sports through the years in Shreveport, La. He started running track in eighth grade to help him at receiver and ended up loving it. Especially, the 200. Stevenson never quite could jolt out of those blocks like everybody else, which is why he didn’t embrace the 100. But in the 200, rounding the bend, he was the guy always catching everybody else at the end.

His best time ever? A blistering 20.9 in regionals when there wasn’t even anyone near Stevenson to push him. The closest competitor was a good 10 to 15 yards in his dust.

And he still remembers some classic races with current Bucs linebacker Devin White and Browns corner Greedy Williams. There’s more raw speed in this pocket of Louisiana than anyone realizes, he says, and there are absolutely genes at play, too.

His sister ran the 200, too. His Mom was a star athlete. Even his grandmother was exceptionally athletic in her day. He’s heard all the stories about his grandma dominating back on the cinder track. As for Dad? He was in prison from the time Stevenson was four years old to just a couple months ago. Since his Dad was in prison in Virginia, he never got to visit him. And whenever his Dad sent him letters, son never actually got them. He says his Dad was accidentally sending them all to his old address. As a result, there never really was a relationship here through the years.

The two are just now trying to build one.

Asked what led to his Dad’s sentence, Stevenson says he believes it was drug-related.

Either way, that’s a road he never took. Stevenson realized at an extremely early age — six years old — exactly what he’d do with his life: Get to the NFL. It was important to maintain that tunnel vision, too. Life in Shreveport, he says, is a hell of a lot harder than most realize.

“You had to pick a side,” Stevenson says. “I chose this side. But I lost friends to gun violence, to jail cells, all that type of stuff. So me seeing that type of stuff going on, I didn’t want to be the next person to go that route. It made me concentrate on football that much harder.”

So, it was an easy decision, too. When he realized nobody in the entire neighborhood could keep up with him, Stevenson stayed locked in. His mother wasn’t afraid to lay down the hammer, too. She put Stevenson into a different elementary school, in fourth grade, to remove him from kids she could tell would be bad news one day. Stevenson didn’t understand why his Mom was telling him, essentially, These aren’t your friends anymore. Soon, he did. And whenever others in his neighborhood stayed outside late — often getting in trouble — he was inside. He had a strict curfew. There was no leeway.

When asked what happened to those kids who didn’t choose his path, Stevenson doesn’t sugarcoat it.

“Dead or in jail,” Stevenson says. “I lost a lot of friends.”

He can remember one close call, one moment he feared for his life. Stevenson remembers going to a party as a teen once when gunshots started firing. He took off in a manic sprint. He didn’t know if he was running toward the bullets or away from the bullets — only that he needed to get to his friend’s car. ASAP. Stevenson made it, jumped right through the open window on the passenger side and his friend drove off to safety.

Nobody ever knew who was shooting or why.

Nobody ever dares to ask, he says.

Then, off to college Marquez Stevenson went.

After tearing it up at Northwood Senior High School, Stevenson had bigger offers — Nebraska, Mississippi State, Baylor, Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.) all wanted him — but he says he wanted to be a part of building something at a smaller school. He talked at length to guys like defensive lineman Ed Oliver and quarterback D’Eriq King about all going to the same school together to build a winner.

Says Stevenson: “With me being in Houston, nothing was handed to me. I’m in this position all off hard work, not somebody else’s name.”

And he certainly is not kidding.

Because once he got to Houston? Everything went wrong.

Of course, there were the three different head coaches and three receivers coaches. But beyond the commotion around him were the back-to-back injuries right out of the chute that should’ve made Stevenson a never-was. First, came the broken collarbone in his first preseason camp that cost him his entire freshman year. Stevenson never needed surgery, instead letting the bone heal itself and returned at the tail end of the season. He points to his collarbone here today and you can see the bone protruding out a bit, a constant reminder of that lost year.

Then, right when he returned from this, “Speedy” tore his ACL on March 28, 2017 in spring ball.

The date’s engrained in his mind forever. He still has a video of the injury saved on his phone, too, and relives it here once more.

As you can see, plain as day, it’s the dreaded non-contact injury. He falls in a heap.

At the time, Stevenson didn’t know it was anything serious. He even jogged off the field and did 20 burpees with the rest of his teammates after practice. After sliding into the cold tub, the knee felt stiff so he got a shower, had an X-Ray done and… learned the news. He did, indeed, tear his ACL. He’d need to wait another full season.

Right then, he wondered if that dream as a six-year-old had just died.

“After I tore my ACL, I’m thinking, ‘Should I really have come to Houston?’ So I was questioning a lot of things. It made me realize: Football doesn’t last forever. … I was questioning myself. Because I never got injured in high school. And my first two seasons in college were season-ending. Now, I’m like, ‘Dang! What’s going on? Am I not living right?’ I really had to look at myself in the mirror but… everything happens for a reason. So I knew once I could get on the field, I’d be able to showcase.”

That night, he called his Mom. Both shed tears.

Stevenson knew this was completely out of his control but still felt like he was letting his entire family down.

“It hurt,” he says. “Me hearing my Mom cry on the phone as I shed tears, it really gave me a different effect.”

He rehabbed, he learned the value of patience, he returned and he starred at Houston. Instantly. His first game, against Rice, Stevenson caught five passes for 107 yards with a touchdown. His reaction after the touchdown is priceless.

He doesn’t jump around in a state of elation.

Stevenson, more so, walks around to completely soak in the moment.

For the season, Stevenson finished with 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns, toasting corners with ease. Typically, it takes players so reliant on raw speed a full year to feel like themselves again. That was not the case here.

“Me, first season, off a torn ACL. Me, first season period, going for 1,000 yards. That’s not normal,” Stevenson says. “It was my mindset. Wanting the best for me. Taking advantage of every opportunity. Me being out there for my first game of the season, on television, that was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. So I just felt like myself again.”

The next year, in 2019, he caught 52 passes for 907 yards with nine touchdowns.

And how sweet it was, in 2020, returning a kick 97 yards to the house against Tulane. As he raced to the end zone, he was able to spot his mother right there in the stands jumping up and down in the family section.

They made eye contact and, no doubt, the memory of that tear-filled phone call came to mind.

“That’s a moment I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Stevenson says.

Thinking back to those two injuries, Stevenson — much like Iowa State’s Kene Nwangwu — says he sincerely learned to cherish the little things like walking on his own, running again, getting to even play this game. So, once he was 100 percent? He’d cherish his No. 1 gift like never before.

“That’s my weapon,” Stevenson says. “That’s my No. 1 thing. That’s what people can’t teach — speed.”

Hanging around the Houston facilities, Stevenson would often bump into the school’s track coach: nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis. And he became so confident in his wheels that Stevenson is sure he could’ve starred on the Cougars’ vaunted track team if he wanted. It’s just that running really fast in a straight line wasn’t nearly as fun as starting and stopping and cutting in every possible direction.

Because this is what NFL teams love most about Speedy’s speed — it’s dangerous in all directions. He can do more than just beat you downfield on a go route.

As Stevenson explains, he can also cut at maximum velocity without slowing down.

“I can make turns still running full speed,” he says, “and I’m balanced at the same time. And I’ve been doing that since high school. My high school coach told me that was a really good thing I had that other guys didn’t have.”

His timing’s impeccable, too. Ten years ago, Stevenson probably is not considered a future NFL starter but the prototype is not the prototype anymore.

Teams are featuring 5-foot-10, 182-pound blazers like Stevenson as No. 1’s more than ever. Part of it’s what guys like him are able to do themselves and part of it’s how the league’s set up today. Corners can’t rough guys up like they could a decade ago. When scouts had Stevenson play on the outside all Senior Bowl Week to see how he could handle the boundary 1 on 1, he delivered. He embarrassed corners from Power 5 schools. The best way Stevenson can describe his speed is that he knows how to use it to his advantage.

He’s “smart” with it. He sees how other receivers with 4.3/4.4 speed are unable to slow down and knows decelerating can be more important than accelerating.

Stopping on a dime. Lulling corners to sleep.

Cutting left. Cutting right.

With that threat to go deep looming — always — Stevenson loves playing cat and mouse. He lacks a good 20-25 pounds of muscle that others have and maybe that does prove to be a problem in the pros. Time will tell. But the effect we’ve seen so far with him? Once Stevenson beats corners deep, they’re scared. They start lining up wayyyy off of him… then he starts going to work underneath. When it comes to this, Tyreek Hill is of course the gold standard. Stevenson studies the Chiefs wideout as much as possible.

Add it all up and Stevenson believes he is a “first-round talent” regardless of what happens these next 48 hours.

“My work ethic is different,” he says. “I’m a leader on and off the field. And I lead by example.”

More is at play here, too. This day, Stevenson wears a necklace that features the letters “K” and “J.” Two letters that stand for two of his closest friends that died while he was in college.

The “J” is for Jordan Davidson. He was one of Stevenson’s closest friends from middle school. He accidentally shot himself in 2016.

Stevenson was a college freshman at the time.

The “K” is for Ka’Darian Smith, a teammate at Houston, who was robbed and killed in his own high-rise luxury apartment on Nov. 4, 2020. This was one of Stevenson’s closest friends on the team. Anywhere Stevenson went, Smith was with him. He can still remember those off days in school where one would always call the other to chill.

Until, they couldn’t anymore.

A video captured four suspects and Devion Michael Hurtado was charged with capital murder.

Even though Smith had been kicked off the football team for a few months, he remained close with Stevenson who says he was “numb” after the murder. When Stevenson and a few others went out together a few weeks later, they realized Smith wasn’t there and it hit them all. Hard. Once he got home, Stevenson cried to let it all out.  

Today, Smith’s name is tatted on his arm and the date he passed is tatted on his hand.

“He’s forever with me,” Stevenson says.

“That type of stuff motivates me. It made me want to keep going for those guys.”

Both are gone but Stevenson says he’s keeping both at the forefront of his mind. Especially while training at a spot like this, House of Athlete, founded by longtime NFL wideout Brandon Marshall. Here, Stevenson continued to evolve his game from Jan. 4 right on through March. The opportunity right in front of him was never clearer. He saw a ton of NFL players — past greats like Santonio Holmes, Ray Lewis, Michael Vick and current players like Justin Jefferson and Jarvis Landry — and tried picking their brains as much as possible.

All offensive rookies on site also broke film down with former head coach Hue Jackson.

In this setting, Stevenson saw how playing in three different college offenses helped.

“I try to be grateful for every step of the way because going through what I’ve been through,” Stevenson says, “I’m not supposed to be here right now. So me being here, I’ve got to cherish all of these moments being around guys — like Brandon Marshall — guys like that. There aren’t too many guys from where I’m from getting a chance to experience this. I try to be grateful and take everything in.”

Now, it’s time to hear his name called.

It could be tonight. It could be tomorrow.

Stevenson has a feeling he’s heading to the cold. After spending his whole life down south, he can see himself now living up north. Maybe that speed is knifing through that minus-25 wind chill at Lambeau Field or the lake effect snow in Buffalo. Both environments would be a tad different than life in Shreveport… and he welcomes it.

Wherever he ends up getting drafted, Stevenson knows his legend is about to grow.

“When you hear ‘Marquez Stevenson,’ the first thing you think about is speed. I say ‘under the radar’ but, at the same time, if you know you know.”

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