Chapters have been written through the ages about the “reluctant hero,” those in society who go to extreme measures to avoid their destiny. Another such story may be about to unfold on the Kentucky football field.
Marcus McWilson, a four-star safety from powerhouse Cardinal Mooney, was the highest rated high school senior in UK’s signing class and, as such, one of those projected to spearhead Mark Stoops’ rebuilding project in Lexington.
Eight years ago, however, that notion would have been laughable.
“A friend signed me up for football in fifth grade, and I wasn’t happy about it,” McWilson said. “I skipped the whole first week. I hid from my mother until she dragged me out of the house to go.”
McWilson loved football, just not the American version.
“I loved soccer,” he said. “I had been playing since I was a kid. My brother was on a soccer scholarship to Cleveland State. That’s a lot of the reason I played.”
The situation was such that McWilson merely tolerated football into his teen-age years with no real desire to play in high school.
“I was OK playing football in fifth and sixth grades because my friends were playing,” McWilson said. “But in high school, I wasn’t going to play. But some of my friends played so I just kept after it and eventually fell in love with the sport.”
It probably didn’t hurt McWilson’s enthusiasm for the sport that Cardinal Mooney went 15-0 his freshman year to win a state championship. The Youngstown, Ohio, school won the state crown again during McWilson’s junior season when he recorded a remarkable nine interceptions in 14 games.
The wheels were now in motion and our once reluctant leading man was on the path to being a football hero.
“If I hadn’t started playing football I’m not really sure where I would be today,” McWilson said. “I wouldn’t be here today and I can tell you that I’m thankful for the opportunity that I’ve been presented and all these guys out here have been presented with.”
The on-field opportunity is for McWilson to win the starting safety job as the Kentucky secondary is woefully thin on numbers. But even now, he remains the reluctant hero.
“Everybody is going to compete for a position and that’s what I’m here to do,” McWilson said. “If I step out on that field, or if it’s someone else, then it’s best of luck to them. I’ll definitely push them and compete with them to make them a better player. I’ll cheer them on no matter what.”
McWilson arrives at Kentucky with a double identity. He is not just a standout safety, he is another in the line of Cardinal Mooney products. Coach Mark Stoops and his brothers all played at Mooney and their father, Ron Sr., was a Mooney legend, serving as teacher and coach for 28 years.
“The Stoops name is big time up there,” McWilson said. “We love the Stoops family. All the coaches stay in contact with the Mooney family, they’re always back at the school. They love us and we love them. We’re excited for them.”
The connection also brought instant credibility and a sense of peace for McWilson, who made a late change from Nebraska to Kentucky after Stoops was hired.
“He played safety at Mooney, I’m a safety coming from Mooney,” McWilson said. “He’s a Mooney guy so I trust him. I trust him with my life. I know he wouldn’t steer me wrong.
“To be out here with him is a great feeling,” McWilson said. “He’ll point me and the rest of these guys in the right direction. I couldn’t be happier about the situation.”