It wasn’t flashy. No, it was a simple gesture. The waving of his arms across his body, as if to tell his waiter he had no room for dessert, and a couple nods to about 90,000 screaming fans. That was Marco Wilson’s reaction after smacking the ball away from Tennessee receiver Marquez Callaway two weeks ago on what was probably the most important play of his young career. It wasn’t ornate. It wasn’t over-the-top. But it was something. For Marco Wilson, there’s always something.
When he was a kid, his father Chad remembers 5-year-old Marco blazing past defenders playing flag football for the West Pines Wildcats. And even though he played flag football, he liked to tackle his opponents before pulling their flags.
At his brother’s middle school graduation, Marco disappeared. “We didn’t know where the hell he was,” Chad said, “and we started to panic.” Until Marco showed up moments later wielding a video of himself doing acrobatics on the roof.
When he was in middle school himself, Chad remembers Marco once grabbing a pick six and raising his arm on the way to the end zone. “Very Marco,” Chad called it.
Always wanting to be different. Always wanting to do things his way. But that’s difficult when you tore your ACL and missed your junior year of high school. And when you’re one of more than 100 players at one of the nation’s top football programs. And especially when your brother, Quincy, starred at your own position for the Gators before leaving school early to become a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But for Marco, a freshman cornerback who’s starting for Florida at 18, living in his brother’s shadow is unacceptable. That’s not to say he doesn’t look up to Quincy, try to learn from him or model his game after him. He just wants to do it better.
“He’s always just tried to do whatever Quincy did,” his father said. “And more.”
That was clear as a child. As the more daring of the two, Marco taught himself to backflip as a 7-year-old. Quincy was uninterested, but Marco practiced through countless landings on his chest and head until he perfected it.
That led to an interest in parkour. Marco even made a video showing him hopping over cars, running up walls, jumping off boardwalks and landing (mostly) on his feet. Patrick Surtain, Marco’s coach at American Heritage High School of Plantation, said he saw that in Marco during his high school years.
“It’s like a stuntman,” he said, “and he does it with such ease... (I call him) Spiderman Wilson.”
It also got him in trouble one morning when Chad found dents on the hood of his Pontiac G6. He immediately suspected Marco.
“That’s his MO,” he said. “That’s his work.”
Marco denied it. Then Chad found the parkour video, “and there he was doing flips off the hood of my car.”
“When he was younger,” Chad said, “he was a little more free-spirited than we wanted him to be. He would get himself into some trouble.”
But on the football field, that was -- and remains -- a good thing.
Surtain saw that in him from the beginning. He said he met Marco when he was about 10, and in addition to his speed, what stood out was his aggressive style of play.
Ask any wideouts on UF’s roster and they’ll tell you Quincy was just like that, too. He was physical. He was gonna put his hands on you at the line. But Quincy had an advantage over Marco: He’s bigger.
At Florida, he was listed at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds. Marco is 6 feet, 177. But if you ask Florida’s players, they’ll tell you that’s the only big difference.
“Marco plays like he’s 6-1, 215,” linebacker Cristian Garcia said. “They’re both pretty similar. Not much difference.”
“They’re just alike,” fellow corner Duke Dawson said.
“He kind of reminds me of his brother a little bit,” added wideout Josh Hammond. “He's kind of physical on the line of scrimmage, and he's really knowledgeable. He knows what to do.”
That started with Chad teaching Marco that defense is an attitude. Regardless of technique or scheme, you should be aggressive. Punch the ball out. Be intense. Make plays. And, of course, give the offense nothing. Even if it’s first-and-goal from the 1-yard line off a turnover, anything at all is unacceptable. Give. Them. Nothing.
But that attitude backfired ahead of Marco’s junior year.
He’d been complaining about knee pain all summer, but doctors couldn’t find anything. They recommended more rest.
“And that’s not something Marco does real well,” his father said.
He did sit out of practice for a while, but he insisted he was fine. He started practicing again until one day when he didn’t look like himself.
“Take a break,” Chad told him. But Marco refused.
Moments later, covering current Tennessee receiver Brandon Johnson on a deep pass, Marco broke it up and tumbled over Johnson. He immediately reached for his knee.
While waiting two days for MRI results, he said he was fine. He ran up and down the stairs to prove it. The doctor had called while he and Marco were at practice.
Chad didn’t say a word to Marco. He just gestured his hand back and forth under his neck. Marco didn’t need to see that to know the news. He could see it in his father’s face.
He collapsed, crushed under the weight of his lost junior season and his jeopardized football career.
When he came back about 8 months later, he was rated a 4-star recruit by 247Sports. Quincy had three stars. He signed with Florida over USC, though not only because of his brother. He believed Florida had a great defense.
And three games into his freshman season, Marco has exceeded what Quincy did in his first three games. He’s amassed four defended passes, which ranks second on the Gators behind Dawson. And while his father said he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself to exceed the expectations his brother left, the trash-talking, quick-footed corner has done so.
“He didn’t wanna just go there and keep hearing Quincy’s little brother,” Chad said. “He wanted to go there and make a name for himself. Which, three games into his freshman year, he’s certainly done. He’s played and done more early in his career than Quincy was able to do.”
“I think he wanted to go up there and really create his own success, not relying on his brother,” he said. “And he’s done that so far.”
Chad calls it a mission, both to live up to his brother’s legacy and exceed it. But also to just play his way. To be his own man.
“And so far,” he said, “so good.”