When senior tight end Cole Marcoux reached out and pulled in the pass with his left hand, stubbed his foot down just before he crossed out of the end zone and the officials raised their arms to signal a Dartmouth touchdown against Yale last month, there were smiles all around.
Perhaps none was bigger than the satisfied one creasing coach Buddy Teevens’ face. The smile had little to do with getting the early lead on Yale – which with Marcoux’s four catches Dartmouth would go on to knock from the ranks of the undefeated – and everything to do with the pride he took in a remarkable journey by an unpretentious player for whom he will forever have a special place in his heart.
Cole Marcoux came to Dartmouth as a 6-foot-5 quarterback with a big arm and a bigger reputation. Although he played his high school football at The Fieldston School in New York City, hardly a powerhouse, Marcoux had won a reality football show called The Ride, which led to the chance to play in the Aloha Prep Bowl. That, in turn, earned him the opportunity to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
Playing with and against some of the top recruits in the nation, Marcoux completed 5-of-8 throws for 99 yards and two touchdowns in the All-American game. Little wonder that when he showed up for preseason at Dartmouth a few months later the only thing missing was the trumpet heralding his arrival. The attention wasn’t something he asked for or necessarily wanted, but it was impossible to avoid.
“I had this amazing experience but I tried to keep a level head,” the soft-spoken Marcoux recalled three years later. “I felt extremely lucky to be in the situation I was in. I literally was speaking with (then Dartmouth President Jim Yong) Kim as a senior in high school. What high school senior is speaking with the president of an Ivy League institution? That’s quite a recruiting pitch.”
And then something happened that no one saw coming.
Out of the blue the can’t miss kid with the NFL arm developed a hitch in his throwing motion that slowed his delivery and affected his accuracy. Passes that previously would have stung receivers’ hands were being batted at the line, thunking into the ground or wobbling over heads.
Where the mysterious problem came from, no one knows to this day. Nor did they know how to fix it, although they tried. My, how they tried.
“It was frustrating to me not being able to help him get back to what I saw, and what I had recruited,” said Teevens, who worked with Marcoux after virtually every practice. “It bothered me a bunch because he would do anything. His work ethic and his commitment were unbelievable. He’s the guy that would drag the net out and throw nonstop, but whatever we tried, we couldn’t get it straightened out.”
There were a few highlights his freshman year, most notably a 15-for-23 performance while throwing for 168 yards against the Harvard junior varsity. But playing on Sunday afternoons before a few dozen friends and family wasn’t what anyone expected, including Marcoux.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for it because it was a changing time in my life,” he said. “There had been so many things going on. I couldn’t believe everything was happening to me and then the next thing you know it seemed to be coming down all at once.
“I don’t know what caused that. I wish I did. If I could have, I would have corrected it.”
Like the eager golfer listening to swing tips from anyone and everyone who had an idea and a desire to help, Marcoux found his head swirling. If anything, the problem was only exacerbated during his sophomore year when he again split time with the jayvees.
It was during the spring of his sophomore year things finally came to a head.
“We had a pretty full room of quarterbacks at that point and I could see that despite all the hard work I had put in – and there really was no lack of hard work to try to make the quarterback situation work – things just didn’t seem to be clicking,” Marcoux said. “They weren’t going in the direction that I had hoped they would eventually go.”
At that point Marcoux and Teevens sat in his office talking about his future.
“We kind of covered where I felt that I was and where he felt that I was,” Marcoux recalled. “I think that we both had realistic feelings about where the quarterback situation was going and my role in it.
“There was no pressure on me to make a change. It was just something I felt and Coach Teevens agreed, that could be a positive move for the team and myself. I felt like I was athletic enough to contribute elsewhere and I had the physical size to do so. I just had never done it in the past, so there was a steep learning curve.”
And so the onetime can’t-miss quarterback became a neophyte receiver.
Marcoux spent last year working on his routes and his hands and transitioning from quarterback to “football player” until, at the final game against Princeton, the seed for this season was planted in a conversation with receivers coach Cortez Hankton.
“He asked me if I had thought about tight end,” Marcoux recalled. “It had been in the back of my mind the whole time but when he said that I was excited because all I wanted to do was find a way to get on the field and contribute.
“When he suggested that, it meant to me I was still being thought of as a valuable asset to the team, and that people had put thought into where I could be most successful. That’s when I started really eating a lot and really got to work in the weight room.”
Last summer Marcoux interned in New York City for MSG Sports President Dave Howard ’82, himself a former Dartmouth quarterback whose career did not go the way he might have hoped with four career completions. While working for Howard was a dream job for Marcoux – a diehard Knicks and Nets fan who is majoring in sociology modified with economics and might like to work is sports management – the most valuable lesson may have come from talking with his boss about the parallel tracks their quarterback careers had taken.
“He was excited by the idea of me making the position change, which a lot of people were,” said Marcoux. “He spoke very fondly of his football experience. He was really supportive and talked about treating this as a four-year experience. Three years can go one way, but it is a four-year experience for a reason.
“You don’t have to give up on what your legacy is going to be just because the first three years may not have gone the way you wanted them to. He said there is still 25-percent of your football experience left and that’s a pretty sizable chunk.”
Marcoux had played quarterback at 225 pounds. In anticipation of the switch to tight end he was at 235 last spring. When camp opened this fall he was at 245 and it wasn’t just from eating. Marcoux hit the weights with a vengeance and he hasn’t stopped working on making himself a quality Division I tight end since. Motivation was not a problem.
“Every workout, every bit of film, every bit of preparation that I have done, in the back of my mind has been this feeling that I am not going to allow a lack of hard work to bring me back to a place that I told myself I never want to go back to,” Marcoux said. “That’s kind of the approach I’ve had this entire past year.”
With the graduation of two tight ends and only Dean Bakes returning with any varsity experience at the position, Marcoux was confident he had found the place where he could make a difference and he was right. He’s caught 13 balls for 174 yards and with his next catch he’ll match 2012 starter Justin Foley’s reception total from last fall. In his first varsity season.
He’s thrilled with the way things have turned out, both for himself and for a staff that stood by him.
“The coaches brought me here because they thought I was going to be a strong contributing quarterback,” Marcoux said. “A lot of people might have turned their back on someone who wasn’t panning out the way they expected him to, but the coaches stuck with me and helped me find a way to contribute to this team.”
While his journey has hardly been without its share of travails, Marcoux fully embraces the theory that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“I came to college with the anticipation of these being four years when I would be learning more about myself and about life than I ever had before,” he said. “And I have. Football has been a huge contributor to that.
“From the college perspective, Dartmouth has been tremendous. I’ve had great academic success here and have really enjoyed all my classes and professors. I couldn’t ask for anything more. From a social aspect I have met some of the greatest friends I will have forever, and teammates that I will have for life.
“From a football perspective, it may not look the way I thought it was going to look, but this has been a successful experience and one that has been highly educational. Those are two things that I was looking forward to, and I got both of them. It took a little bit of time, but I am happy in the end that everything worked out.”
Marcoux isn’t any happier than about how things have gone than the coach who suffered with him and smiled for him, even before the landmark touchdown against Yale.
“I saw he was a special young man the first time I met with him,” said Teevens. “I will never forget what he went through, what he put up with and what he hung on to. I’ll always appreciate his commitment to the football team and his teammates. He’s completely unselfish, but it had to be painful for him to go through what he went through. To weather that? A lesser guy would have packed it in and left without looking back.
“He has been the consummate team player. It may not have been exactly what he envisioned, but he’s someone who came here to make a difference in Dartmouth football, and that’s what he has done.”