Among the hundreds of hopefuls in this year’s NFL Draft, Ali Marpet is unique in many ways, some of which we’ll mention. Here’s one: Unlike so many of the athletes who were shedding weight to get in peak physical shape prior to the predraft combine, Marpet was eating, and eating, then eating some more.
“I know there are some guys here who have to stay away from the desserts, but I don’t have to worry about that,” Marpet said at last month’s combine. “I’m the opposite way. I was just pounding pasta a little while ago.”
An offensive lineman who measures nearly 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 307 pounds, Marpet is still fine-tuning the body he’ll need to play high-level football. He entered college at 255 pounds, and because of the weight he loses while playing, he needs to eat as much as 9,000 calories per day to gain it back and keep it.
But because he wants football to become his job — as unlikely as that sounds, when you consider Marpet’s back story — he eats and exercises. A lot.
Marpet recently finished his playing career at tiny Hobart College, a Division 3 school in Geneva, N.Y. The New York native started at left tackle for the Statesmen, who play in the Liberty League against schools such as Springfield and WPI, and suffered their only loss last season in the NCAA Division 3 quarterfinals to Wesley.
Marpet was on the field in Milton last Sept. 20 for Hobart’s 43-13 win over Curry College, with 1,798 in attendance.
That’s a far cry from Division 1 football and Power 5 conferences, but it’s the latest example of an old NFL adage: If you’re good enough, no matter where you’re playing, they’ll find you.
Marpet won’t be the first offensive lineman taken in this year’s draft, which starts April 30. But many forecasters say he could go in the second or third round. He can play tackle, guard, or center.
“This guy is maybe one of my favorites,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock during the combine broadcast. “Everybody wants to talk about Jameis Winston and whether or not he’s going to talk [at the combine], when this kid is more of a story.”
That’s mainly because of Marpet’s school, and how rare it is for a player to make the jump from Division 3 to the NFL. It’s difficult for league personnel to grade and compare a player facing that kind of competition, so when Marpet received an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl, it allowed him to go up against quality prospects from the biggest Division 1 schools.
It also served as reassurance that Marpet belonged.
“It was important for me to go out and actually play against the best players in the country,” said Marpet, who chose Hobart over Holy Cross and Fordham (his size coming out of high school kept bigger schools away). “At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to match up. Pretty soon, I knew I would be OK. I was invited there for a reason.
“Going out and getting used to the speed — the speed was the biggest difference going from D3 to D1. I was able to handle the size, and once I had a few reps, I was fine.”
Michael Green figured Marpet would be. Green was an offensive line teammate of Marpet’s for three seasons in college, then served as Hobart’s assistant offensive line coach last year. He has seen firsthand the transformation of a 255-pound freshman to a 300-pound dominant departing senior about to make school history.
“It’s completely unique,” said Green, who is now Hobart’s offensive line coach. “It’s something we’ve never had on campus before. The only time we’ve ever had a guy play in the NFL from our college was back in the 1930s [halfback Fred King].
“We had a guy in the early 2000s [offensive lineman Alex Bell] that made it as a practice player, but we’ve never had the media exposure that Ali has gotten. It’s been a learning experience for all of us. It’s exciting.”
After holding his own at the Senior Bowl, Marpet made NFL personnel take notice with his performance at the combine. His time of 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash was second-fastest among all offensive linemen, and his 30 repetitions of lifting 225 pounds were fifth-most.
Any of the NFL talent evaluators not aware of Marpet then are aware of him now. If they had any questions about the intangibles that teams value — character, work ethic, coachability — Green has gladly filled in those gaps.
“He’s always very dedicated to making himself better, but also making the team better,” Green said. “I can imagine a lot of guys in his position — with all the media attention he’s had and the attention from the NFL — being a guy that’s above the team, just thinking about going to the next level and not really caring about the season or the other players on the team.
“He was never like that. He’s been humble the whole way through, has continued to care about his teammates. He always put the team first.
“I think he’s the kind of guy that, even if he comes in and maybe struggles a little bit, or gets faced with some adversity, he’ll compete. Whether he’s on the two-deep [depth chart] or the three-deep, or whether he’s the starter, no matter what position he’s going to be in, he’ll look to make himself better every day. Ali just has the mentality that he’s going to be successful.”
That kind of NFL dream might seem strange coming from a Division 3 player. But the food-loving lineman with the unusual name from the small school that’s never had a player drafted is ready to meet the challenge. He’s known this was a possibility since his junior year, when a scouting organization paid him a visit.
Said Marpet: “I ran the 40 for them, I took the Wonderlic [aptitude test], they measured me, and I discovered that I had the same physical tools as some of the other offensive linemen. So I said, ‘Why not me? I can play football.’ ”
Ben Volin's top offensive line prospects