Why Bucs lineman Ali Marpet says he 'didn't see this coming' after Super Bowl triumph
As he sat answering questions late Sunday night, the normally articulate Ali Marpet had his train of thought suddenly interrupted.
The starting left guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been busy putting a bow on an unlikely journey to the Super Bowl podium from a small town in Westchester County and a small college in upstate New York when offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich wrapped him in a bear hug.
It's been a decade of surreal moments for Marpet, but never more so than when the Hastings High School graduate helped pave the way to a 31-9 victory over the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
Marpet said he only wanted to make an NFL roster as recent as his senior year at Division III Hobart.
"Obviously, the benchmark has changed a long the way," he told reporters after the game Sunday. "I do feel very fortunate that we were able to get to the highest standard and win the most important game. I didn't see this coming and it's all the more exciting because of it."
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Marpet was lightly recruited before graduating from Hastings in 2011. He developed into an all-American at Hobart, but still had to overcome the Division III label by performing well prior to the 2015 NFL Draft. Marpet not only accomplished that, he was selected 61st overall that year, played his way into a $55-million contract extension in 2018, and has since earned a reputation as one of the better interior offensive linemen in football.
Marpet has embraced the significance of the example he has set for the under-recruited or overlooked.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "I feel so happy that I can represent the small-school guys, the guys who have been overlooked, and honestly anyone who feels like they have been overlooked that know within themselves they can accomplish great things. I feel very happy to waive that flag."
Being viewed as a standard bearer for small-school players hasn't interfered with Marpet's play. He even threw a key block that sprung Leonard Fournette for a 27-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Bucs' win.
With his team leading 21-9 already, the left guard pulled, charging down the right side of Tampa's line. He sealed off Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward to give Fournette a spacious running lane en route to the end zone.
Marpet raved about the experience of playing in front of quarterback Tom Brady, who won his NFL record seventh Super Bowl on Sunday.
"Playing with Tom is unbelievable," Marpet said. "The fact that he's been doing it for so long and is still enthusiastic about the game and able to pull guys along is unbelievable. He truly loves it and guys feel that and I think it just pulls guys in that direction."
Although few athletes have the star power or have ever reached the heights of Brady, Marpet offered advice for players like him, those toiling in obscurity and just hoping for an opportunity.
"It doesn't matter where you play as long as it's important to you and you're focused on getting better," he said. "They'll find you. It's not going to be the easiest road, but they'll find you."