Long before his six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown helped propel the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl, a teenage Marquez Valdes-Scantling just needed a helmet.
As a freshman at St. Petersburg’s Lakewood High School, Valdes-Scantling was small. His father, Marcellus Scantling, said his son stood just 5-foot-6, and he had to buy him a helmet so that he could play.
Except he didn’t play. And In Valdes-Scantling’s eyes, never seeing the field essentially meant he wasn’t a Spartan.
“He said, ‘I was a nobody,’ Marcellus relayed. “‘They didn’t even know my name, so I’m not a part of the team.’”
Spoiler alert: they soon learned his name.
If his mother, Tahisia Scantling, had her way, her son may have never made it to the pinnacle of professional football. Like many moms, she preferred that young Marquez focused on his education.
Tahisia explained that local magnet school officials accepted Marquez into their collegiate programs. Once reaching high school, he had the opportunity to take classes at St. Petersburg College.
Mom wanted two years of free college. Son wanted to “be a normal kid.”
“It hurt my heart,” said Tahisia. “But we respected his decision. And I’m glad he stayed at Lakewood because that’s where he got the opportunity to get a four-year scholarship. You know, two years or four years – big difference.”
In addition to football, Marcellus said his son played baseball and basketball and ran track. He also participated in the Drama Club, and Marcellus said, “he was just an all-around kid.”
Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-generation St. Petersburg native, has two brothers. Antuan Butler is the oldest of the trio, and Marcellus Scantling Jr. is the youngest. Marcellus Sr. said he and Tahisia never pushed their children to play sports and supported whatever endeavors they chose.
While Valdes-Scantling showed athletic potential growing up, Marcellus never expected him to play collegiately, much less professionally. However, after his sophomore year at Lakewood, Marcellus said his son “went into beast mode” and began “perfecting his craft.”
“We’d be planning a family cruise or vacation, and he’d be like, ‘oh, I got to see if we have offseason workouts,’” Marcellus relayed. “I’d be like, ‘man, you’re just in high school.’ But that’s how much it meant to him.”
As it often does, Valdes-Scantling’s hard work and determination began to pay dividends. He also hit a growth spurt.
Marcellus said that by Valdes-Scantling’s junior year, he stood 6-foot-1, was a starting wide receiver and realized he belonged on a team that included future NFL pros Rodney Adams and twins Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin.
As a senior in 2012, Marcellus said a critical game at Tampa Jesuit served as Marquez’s coming out party. He finished with eight catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and college scouts took notice.
Marquez committed to North Carolina State University. He never seemed to find his fit in two seasons with the Wolfpack, and Marcellus said he could tell something was amiss when NC State faced the University of Central Florida in a bowl game.
“I asked him, have you ever thought about transferring?” Marcellus relayed. “And it just seemed like a big burden was lifted off of him.”
The recruiting process began anew, and Marquez decided to return home. He set a University of South Florida receiving yardage record (879) as a senior in 2017 that still stands today.
As a doting mom, Tahisia expressed her happiness with Marquez’s decision. “If he needed something,” she said, “we could be there.”
The Green Bay Packers drafted Marquez in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. After four years of earning the trust of one future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, he has cemented himself as a trusted target of another, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.
Marquez signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Kansas City in March 2022. Tahisia said the Scantling family was biting their nails as they watched him play in the Jan. 29 AFC championship game.
With a depleted wide receiving corps – Mahomes was also nursing an injured ankle – the Chiefs needed Marques to provide a spark. The once undersized kid from Lakewood High (he now stands 6-foot-4) repeatedly answered the call.
“I thought he left it all on the line,” said Tahisia. “Especially when he put his hand out to get that first down. I was just really proud of his tenacity to keep doing everything he could so that he didn’t leave anything on the field.”
The Chiefs emerged with a thrilling 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to reach Super Bowl LVII. Marcellus called that realization surreal, a feeling he said remains even as the Scantlings soak in the events and atmosphere around State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, just two days before the penultimate game.
Marcellus, now an assistant coach at Lakewood, said his son wants kids growing up in similar circumstances to know that anyone can achieve their goals through hard work and determination. He added that Marquez frequently returns to Lakewood to help them train and quietly provides resources to support the team.
“He’s always challenging them to be the best version of themselves,” Marcellus said. “A lot of people only see Sundays, the Super Bowl and the playoffs. They don’t see the offseason workouts. They don’t see the Monday through Saturday practices and meetings.”
Tahisia wants people to know there is more to her son than football. She said he is an entrepreneur, and they frequently discuss the importance of making sound financial decisions.
Marcellus noted Valdes-Scantling started a St. Petersburg-based apparel company with three Lakewood teammates, and is a devout Christian who puts God and family first. “Those are things that I know he would want people to know,” Marcellus said.
“And just enjoy the moment and make the best out of every situation.”