RHODY TAKES ON ELON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15 AT 6PM LIVE ON YURVIEW – COX CHANNEL 4.
For someone who has circled college football’s block a few times in the five years that have ensued since graduating from high school, Marques DeShields can attest to the importance of finding that proper fit.
Now 24, DeShields couldn’t be more pleased with how his latest and final transfer portal appearance has played out with Rhody Football. Landing in Kingston as a redshirt senior, the running back has emerged as a vital piece while living life to the absolute fullest. Enjoying a significant workload out of the backfield for URI marks the third stop on the college circuit for a player who believes that he’s finally hit his stride – doing so as the sands fall through the hourglass.
“It’s been a long road, but now I’m in a spot where I can pass down information to the younger guys who play the same position or happen to be on the same team,” said DeShields.
How DeShields came to call Rhode Island his address for the 2022 season is the culmination of post-high school football journey that’s rooted in patience and perseverance.
At New Jersey’s Overbrook High School, the golden ticket that was made possible by his play on the field appeared in the palm of DeShields’ hand. As a sophomore, he supplied Monmouth University with a verbal commitment. The offers kept coming as a junior, specifically from Temple and Delaware State. Still, DeShields stayed true as he eyed the opportunity to play college ball in his home state.
Then came a detour that placed the dream of Division I college football on the backburner. With the academic piece needing to be shored up, DeShields was required to travel down the junior-college route upon graduating from Overbrook in 2017. He settled on Lackawanna College, a two-year school located in Scranton, Pa.
“It was scary being [at Lackawanna] in the beginning … being a freshman where you were supposed to be heading to a Division I college and now you’re at a junior college,” said DeShields.
Redshirting at Lackawanna during the 2018 season proved to be a blessing in disguise. For DeShields, it was about taking a brief step back in order to take a huge step forward. Returning to the field in 2019, DeShields announced to the football recruiting community that he was back with an impressive 7.2 yards per carry on 51 attempts during a five-game stint.
“Being at Lackawanna taught me a lot,” said DeShields. “It forced me to grow up fast.”
Moving on to Saint Francis (Pa.), DeShields sat out the spring 2021 season. This time, he wasn’t the only member on his team waiting patiently on the sideline. For COVID-specific reasons, the NEC school opted out and shifted its focus to the more traditional fall campaign.
“That season was a blessing and a curse in the sense that I had that entire year to train and get my mind and body right,” said DeShields.
The pattern of sitting one season before returning to the huddle the following season yielded promising gains during the 2021 fall season. DeShields was one of three Saint Francis players to earn All-NEC First Team honors on the strength of 767 rushing yards, 995 all-purpose yards, and six touchdowns.
With an undergraduate degree in communications in his back pocket along with a season of dominance, DeShields set out to find a program that would meet his top requirement heading into his final season of competing as a collegiate.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could compete for a starting spot or a role on the team,” he said. “That’s why I committed to URI.”
A current member of URI’s receiving corps who saw firsthand the impact that DeShields made at Saint Francis, Kahtero Summers spread the word to Rhode Island recruiting coordinator Mike Flanagan, who also coaches the team’s running backs. A match was made as the Rams eyed DeShields as someone who could fill the void left when Justice Antrum graduated.
When it was learned that Rhode Island would be minus the services of 2020 CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year Kevin Brown for the 2021 season due to injury, Antrum slid into a more prominent role and ran with the opportunity – leading the team in rushing with 591 net yards. Among the coaching staff, there was serious discussion about DeShields stepping into the breach previously occupied by Antrum.
“We wanted someone who could come in and produce in a big-time way,” said URI head coach Jim Fleming about DeShields. “We talked to Kahtero about him and he said that (he was) very physical.”
From being a leader in the weight room, to setting an important tone during practice, DeShields set out to show his new URI teammates that he meant business.
“Having transferred twice, I wanted to come in and earn the respect of my teammates and coaches before trying to lead,” he said. “My teammates taught me the playbook throughout the summer, but I wanted to show everyone that I wanted to be part of a championship team before finding my role.”
It’s role that has resulted in DeShields teaming up with sophomore Jaylen Smith to serve as a potent 1-2 running back punch for the Rams. Entering Saturday’s home game against Elon, the Rams have featured DeShields and Smith equally with the former receiving 53 carries and producing 376 yards compared to 42 carries and 238 yards on the latter’s behalf.
“Coach Flanagan knows how to use the both of us,” said DeShields, re-affirming why he’s in a good place as time winds down on his college football career.
“It’s been a long road for me. At times, I never felt I had the chance to show people my true talents in college,” he said. “It feels great to be part of this team and be one of the guys who’s contributing.”
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.