Prospective professional football players don’t typically turn down a chance to play at Missouri to honor a prior commitment to Hofstra. Largely in part because players from schools like Hofstra don’t typically make it to the NFL. And if they do make it, those late-round selections don’t typically make an NFL squad.
What made New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston so atypical? “Irrational confidence” may have something to do with it.
Life of a Saint: Marques Colston
With a father (James) that stood at 6’5”, 350 pounds, and played in the CFL, the odds that Marques Colston would gravitate to football as a youngster were high. The fact that he grew up in a state so historically rich in football talent added to those odds. If that weren’t enough to sway Colston, his family dynamic sealed the deal. “I have four siblings, two of them older brothers. They grew up playing football. We were just a football house.”
As Colston progressed through grade school, he amassed some great memories. But, while the game gave him so much, life took something unimaginable away. As a 14-year old, Colston would lose his father who passed away..
“He was my coach for my entire childhood. He was the person that got me into a bunch of sports. Just having a chance to work out with him, he was my motivator. He was my support system. It was a really close relationship and I lost him within the first couple weeks of my freshman year of high school. Fourteen is a really tough age and losing the person you look up to most in the world makes it a little bit tougher journey from there on.”
Colston would stick with the game and continue to play football at Susquehanna Township High School. During high school, Colston admitted, “There wasn’t a whole lot of success to be honest with you. I was a pretty good football player. I wasn’t setting the world on fire.” And while he doesn’t recall having a single 100-yard game throughout his four years at Susquehanna Twp., he certainly recalls some of the life lessons that found him.
“I had to work for everything I got. There wasn’t a lot of limelight. And with my upbringing, even if that was the case, I think I would have been able to handle it just because my parents really instilled the value of “the work.” The process is what it was really about. Any success, or the end result, was just a function of the process. That’s how I was raised.”
Aside from the lessons learned during his childhood about the benefits of hard work and trusting the process, the concept of “honoring your word” was also ingrained into Marques Colston. The University of Missouri extended an offer to Colston to come play for the Tigers long after he had agreed to go to Hofstra. Colston would honor his prior commitment.
“Missouri came in really late, but I had already committed to Hofstra. I like to think I’m a person of integrity and my word is everything. Once I made the commitment, I had the opportunity to get to campus and meet some of the seniors, the coaching staff, and some of the other players there. It meant a lot to me that they were the first team to really jump and give me an offer.”
While the decision was an integrity move, it didn’t come without the naysayers. Colston shared, “There were people I grew up with, people from my hometown, that told me I was crazy to go to Hofstra. They said I would never be able to make it from that small of a school.” But the former Pennsylvanian didn’t allow those voices to derail his focus. He continued, “It was just my mentality that I can’t allow myself to see any obstacles because that creates doubt. When you have doubt creeping in, doubt becomes the enemy.”
Colston would end up playing his way through college on what he called a “slow progression”. During those four years, his receiving yardage would grow from 335 yards as a freshman and 614 as a sophomore before breaking out with 910 yards as a junior and finishing his senior year with 976 yards. He would finish his senior year making the All-Atlantic 10 First Team.
Unrelated, during his sophomore year at Hofstra, he received the nickname, “Quiet Storm”. Colston jested, “I don’t know who came up with it, but as a young dumb kid I got it tattooed on my triceps at age 19 and it’s been with me ever since.”
Proving His NFL Readiness
Colston obviously had the hands, the size, the speed, and many of the other attributes that an NFL team would look for in a prospect. But coming from a smaller school was still an obstacle Colston needed to overcome. Colston was out to prove that he could succeed against the best young talent that the country had to offer.
“I had a friend of mine that helped me get into the East/West Shrine Game after my senior year. That opportunity to get out and showcase what I could do against some of the bigger school guys, I think that was kind of a turning point. Because when you come from a smaller school, the number one thing is if you’re not a dominant, dominant player, like a Brian Westbrook coming out of Villanova, they start to question the level of play. Getting a chance to go out and play in the East/West Shrine Game and play guys from the LSU’s and the Alabama’s of the world, and show I belonged on the field, I think that was a huge turning point in helping me get drafted and a confidence booster for me because you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Aside from the opportunity to prove his talent in that game, Colston also cited the influence of former Hofstra Wide Receiver coach, Jaime Elizondo. Colston recalled, “He came into football with a different perspective. I think he was a lawyer by trade and became a football coach. He just had a real-world perspective that gave me a lot of insight that prepared me to handle any situation that came my way. He wasn’t really a football purist. Getting ready to walk and to leave school potentially into the NFL, that was something that really stuck with me throughout my career.”
On Colston, Coach Elizondo offered, “Marques was an exceptional talent. I think his greatest jump came when he made it to the NFL. He was just a unique individual in that he was not a big party guy. He wasn’t really concerned with what other people thought. He had a vision for himself.” Colston’s former coach began to paint a picture of the type of player every coach longs to work with. Elizondo then continued, “We stayed in contact throughout that first year. I’d call him and say I noticed a couple of things. So, we talked about the game a little bit. The beauty of Marques is that he is the same person he was before he became an NFL player, same guy he was consistently through college. The NFL didn’t change him. That’s one of the most unique things about him. He was so well-grounded and that’s a tribute to his family. There’s a lot of guys that end up changing when they make it to the NFL. They get the money. They get the accolades. They get attention. He just never changed. He stayed grounded. He stayed humble. He stayed hungry and I think that’s carried over to the success he’s had off the field as well, with both his businesses and his desire to give back and help others. I think that’s one of the most unique things about him is the humility, the wanting to give back and the appreciation. Look, every NFL player has a lot of people that sacrifice on their behalf. When you make it to that level, there are a lot of people who have sacrificed and believed in you. I think Marques appreciates that, understands that, and values that and values giving back as well.”
Colston Gets the Call
Checking all the boxes, Colston expected to be drafted. But as the rounds went by, Colston began thinking he would end up going through the draft without being picked. Once he did get the call, Colston admits, “It’s funny because it was bitter-sweet at the time. I had sat through two entire days of the draft. I was a couple picks away from being able to pick what the best situation was for me as a free agent. I got a call from a team that had probably just been through the toughest haul that any NFL team has ever had to go through as they tried to navigate Katrina. They didn’t know if they were going to be back in New Orleans. They didn’t know if they were going to be the San Antonio Saints. So, to get picked that late, to be three picks away from naively being able to pick what the best situation was going to be for me, to get a call from a team that had so many question marks was interesting.” Colston then continued, “But at the same time, I got a call. So, this was the validation of all the work I had put in. Obviously, it was a happy time for me and my family. And it was an opportunity. It was an opportunity to go out and prove that my dream was worth all the work.”
Colston then shared that if he wouldn’t have been drafted, he thought Arizona would have been a good fit for him. He then laughed as he said, “Silly me.”
As Colston mentioned, the combination of being a rookie, a seventh-round pick at that, and coming into an organization that had gone through so much turmoil the year prior, presented some tough odds. History would show that he didn’t let any of that derail his vision. “I really didn’t care about the odds, but I was smart enough to know they existed - the odds of a seventh-rounder making the roster. For me, I had tunnel vision. My sole purpose every day was to earn a job and to keep it.”
A Big Part of a Big Turnaround
Despite the odds, Colston became a plug-and-play option for new quarterback, Drew Brees, and new head coach, Sean Payton. And while his mental and physical focus was the primary reason, Colston did make it a point to mention the influence of some veterans on that 2006 squad.
“We had some really good vets at the time like Deuce and Joe Horn. Just having a chance to watch those guys work was really the thing that I needed. When you come from a smaller school or smaller program, you feel like you’re working hard. But when you get to this level of play, you start to realize what hard work really looks like. Just getting a chance to watch those guys practice and see what went into their preparation was special. A guy that really stood out to me was Fred McAfee. Just seeing a guy that, at that point, he was 12 or 13 years in still grinding on special teams every day, still doing all the dirty work. He was somebody that was really instrumental as he was whopping my butt on special teams drills at the time. Just seeing somebody that had that much respect, that had done that much in the league, work that hard to keep their job day in and day out, that gave me a really interesting perspective as a 22-year old rookie.”
Colston also mentioned that his approach was simple. Learn every wide receiver position and in this way, you make yourself not just valuable, but indispensable. Mission accomplished.
Colston’s first home game just happened to be the “Rebirth” game in New Orleans, the first home game in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. When asked if anything measured up to his first game, Colston offered, “When you start at that point, the only thing that came close was the NFC Championship. There was no other regular season or post-season game, outside of the NFC Championship, that came close. For that to be my first experience, that’s when I started to realize how important football was to New Orleans and the greater New Orleans area. I had never felt anything like that in my life. Minus Garrett Hartley kicking the game-winning field goal to send us to the Super Bowl, I never witnessed anything like that again.”
Those 2006 Saints would end up making it to the NFC Championship game, a place they had never been before. It proved to be a sign of great things to come for both Colston, who earned PFWA All-Rookie honors, and the Saints organization as a whole.
XLIV and Beyond
“We came into 2009 and everybody feels like they are starting the preseason and they can win the Super Bowl. But with the start that we got off to, I think it really hit me how good we could be during the Monday night game against the Patriots. I think that was 2/3 of the way through the season. Being able to do that to that opponent on national tv I think was the moment I realized we could be a really good team.”
After a couple of “subpar seasons”, Colston and the New Orleans Saints were peaking. While the talent was aligned, and some breaks came at the right time throughout the season for the Saints, Colston’s memory of how they ultimately reached the pinnacle of the football world was in the preparation. He offered, “The thing I remember most about that season was just the competition throughout the week. Going against Vilma and that defense Wednesday through Friday was harder than the games at some points. That level of competition and competitive fire throughout the week at practice, the saying is, ‘Iron sharpens iron’. That’s what that season was really about for me.”
Colston would continue to lead by example, stressing the process and maintaining an uncompromising work ethic to remain a top target for a full decade in the NFL. He would finish his career as the most productive wide receiver in Saints’ history with nearly 10,000 receiving yards and 72 receiving touchdowns. Colston is also a member of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. But despite all the statistics and accolades he collected, it was never about the awards for the Quiet Storm. “I’ve never really been somebody that played the game for accolades. I played the game for respect. The thing that means the most to me is that all the teammates that I played with, all the opponents that I played against, if they respected the work that I put into my craft, that’s really all I cared about.”
Colston’s Vision, Off the Field
Entering the midpoint of his NFL career, those ankle, hand and knee issues may have just seemed like nagging injuries. But those injuries had Colston playing full seasons of football and spending his entire off-seasons rehabbing. Colston saw the situation for what it was and began to prepare for life after football long before he would hang up his cleats. “There was an opportunity in my hometown, it was a pro indoor football team (Harrisburg Stampede) that was coming to town. They reached out to me to invest. The timing was such that I was looking to do something different to take my mind away while I was rehabbing. I ended up investing in this team.” A couple years later, Colston saw an opportunity to become much more involved and really learn all the aspects of running a franchise. He took over the business and football operations of the organization, running its day-to-day operations for three years. The experience proved to be invaluable. Colston would also get involved in the administration and ownership of the Philadelphia Soul, Albany Empire, and the Atlantic City Blackjacks of the Arena Football League.
Aside from the obvious addressing of income post-NFL, this involvement in business also helped Colston transition away from the game he had played since he was seven years old. “Leaving football is a transition like no other. When you take a thing that you’ve been able to become an expert in and then, all of a sudden, change gears in a day and figure out something else…” And just like his introduction into the NFL, Colston knew the odds were against him heading into the business world. But his experience working on the business side of those football clubs helped level the playing field. He shared, “I retired at 32 and I had to go out into a world where I’m competing with people that had done their business and mastered their craft for as long as I played football. Now I have to compete with that from scratch. So, having a leg up and getting a chance to be in that world a handful of years before I was done playing, it gave me a level of confidence that I’m not really starting at ground zero.”
An Impressive Business Resume
As Colston’s understanding of the business of football evolved, so did his appetite to scratch his entrepreneurial itch. The thrill of competition and the desire to prove his value has fueled him as much in business as it ever did on the football field. “I never wanted to enter into something and not be respected for the amount of work that I put in and the value that I could create. When I got a taste of that first door getting slammed in my face, it really motivated me to figure out this aspect of the business, independent of my football career. That’s what lit a fire and has driven me ever since.”
Colston has continued to impress off the field. He is the founder and partner of Kompete, a data and analytics company that connects the sports world by providing end-to-end sports tech solutions to collect, analyze, benchmark and improve (optimize) athletic performance. Colston is also an investor and advisor in Timeless Herbal Care, an international medical cannabis company based in Jamaica. . In addition, Colston is a partner in Main Squeeze Juice Company, a Louisiana-based cold-pressed juice and smoothie franchise concept focused on making it easy for consumers to consume healthy products..
And if that weren’t enough, Colston has also been developing Marques Colston Enterprises, a company that will allow businesses to take advantage of his approach to creating separation and differentiation on and off the field through consultation, education and coaching. For Colston, this has become a labor of love and purpose. “I’ve provided a lot of value over the years for other people’s companies. At this point, I’m excited to be building my own services company that can leverage the unique experiences I’ve had in my life as an athlete, as an entrepreneur, as somebody who has bridged the gap.. I’m building a company that goes out and helps other athletes and other entrepreneurs figure out their own journey.” He then added, “I’ve been doing a lot more public speaking, business advisory and executive coaching work. I’m currently in the process of developing customized education programs in those areas. That’s what’s been leading my days in this quarantine life.”
Marques Colston continues to apply “Irrational Confidence” in everything in which he gets involved. He continues to immerse himself in the process, provide excessive value, and display the vision necessary to warrant the confidence he has used to approach everything in his life.
Success for Marques Colston, in a word? Typical.
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