“I’d go, ‘Five, four, three’—and then I’d stop,” says Marquise Brown, explaining his former job as ride operator at Six Flags Magic Mountain, near Valencia, Calif. “Then I’d say, ‘Y’all want me to keep counting?’ and before they could respond I’d hit the button and the ride would take off.” The Oklahoma wide receiver can’t stifle a laugh at the memory of all those bugged eyes and strained necks.
Each ride operator at Magic Mountain, which hosts some three million guests each year, is encouraged to “have fun and come up with his own spiel,” supervisor Byron Douglas explained while standing beneath the double-looped and corkscrewed white tracks of the Full Throttle ride, where Brown worked, and which hovers over the park like tangled spaghetti. “Sometimes I switched it up,” Brown recalls, but usually he pulled his countdown trick, distracting guests to enhance the shock of Full Throttle’s initial rocket-like ascent.
Brown’s own climb—to becoming Oklahoma’s leading receiver headed into the Sooners’ matchup against Georgia in the Rose Bowl, 30 miles from where Brown used to run roller coasters—has only been a little bit slower.
In 2014, during his senior season at Chaminade-Madonna College Prep in Hollywood, Fla., Brown’s weight hovered around 140 pounds. This fact, plus his late academic qualification, kept his mailbox empty of FBS scholarship offers. Ted Iacenda, head coach at College of the Canyons, located near Magic Mountain but 2,000 miles from Brown’s South Florida home, was recruiting a teammate of Brown’s in ’15 when Iacenda heard that the recruit had a friend who could play, too.
“We were like, ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll take a look at him,’” Iacenda recalls. “My receivers coach looked at the tape and told me, ‘Man, this kid is good.’” Iacenda and his staff tried to sign Brown before the 2015 season, but Brown’s mom, Shannon James, was apprehensive about sending her son all the way to California. By the end of that ’15 season, during which Brown didn’t play football at all, his mother’s fears had subsided enough to put him on a plane headed west.
Oklahoma lists Brown at 5'11", 162 pounds, which is a bit like claiming star quarterback Baker Mayfield is 6'4", 230. “The second I met him, I was like, ‘My God, this kid’s tiny!’” Iacenda says. “But when he gets on the field you’re like, ‘Wow.’ He has a step that not many people on this earth have.”
California junior colleges don’t offer scholarships, so Brown had to find a way to make ends meet last year while pursuing his dream of playing for a Power 5 school. Iacenda directs a handful of his players to the nearby amusement park for exactly that purpose. Brown, however, didn’t have a car or a bike, so he walked to work.
He started out at Bugs Bunny World, an entry-level assignment where new employees deal with children and families. “I loved working with little kids,” Brown recalled at Media Day on Saturday, “getting them on the rides, helping them strap up. It was fun.”
“[Bugs Bunny World] is a training location,” said Donald Spiller, one of Brown’s former supervisors. “If you do well there, you can move up, and Marquise did just that.”
Brown earned another promotion when Oklahoma signed him following his stellar 2016 season at College of the Canyons. “He didn’t go around saying, ‘Hey, I got this offer! I got a full ride!’” says Magic Mountain’s Sue Carpenter. “That’s just not him.” Most of his co-workers didn’t even know he played football. Instead, Brown just said goodbye to the small team at Full Throttle and continued down his life’s road.
“That’s the main thing I tell people about the brief time that we had Marquise,” says Iacenda, “what a great kid he is. It is rare in this world to meet a superstar who is humble and caring and a great teammate. His mom has done a tremendous job with him. He’s someone you want to be around.”
Last week, as Brown and Mayfield toured L.A. and practiced at the Chargers’ home stadium, Magic Mountain’s hilly campus found itself populated by an influx of red-clad Oklahoma fans. Each seemed to have a detailed knowledge of the Sooners’ depth chart, but they were surprised to learn that the wideout who had just gained 981 receiving yards and averaged 20 yards per catch for OU used to run the roller coaster whooshing overhead.
“Really?” asked Sharon Voss, dressed in Oklahoma crimson and cream. Her husband Todd and their kids Bailey and Cody were also incredulous. “‘Hollywood’ worked here?”
George Lobb, a Sooner fan originally from Oklahoma City, looked up at the towering ride. “He did? Wow. He was a game-breaker for us. Especially the Oklahoma State game [nine catches, a school-record 265 yards, two TDs]. He doesn’t have the size, but he has the heart.”
Mainly, Brown has speed. Long before play-by-play man Gus Johnson nicknamed him “Hollywood” during that record-setting OSU game, everyone in Hollywood, Fla., called him “Jet.”
“There’s fast and then there’s on-another-level fast,” Iacenda says. “He’s the second one.”
Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knows that all too well. “He’s not just a one-dimensional guy where they just run him in a straight line and throw him a fade up the sideline,” says Tucker. “They find different ways to get him the ball. We’re showing our guys where he lines up and the plays he’s capable of making, and we’re showing it to them more than once.”
Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker, a South Florida native (Miami Northwestern H.S.) who heard about Brown’s speed in high school but never played against him, says, “You just gotta keep your tools sharp. There’s not really much you can do with speed, so the better your technique, the better chance you have.”
As the days dwindle—five days, four, three—before the Sooners and Bulldogs square off for a chance to play the Clemson-Alabama winner and claim a national title, fans, defensive backs, and doubters alike would be well advised to stay ready. Brown likes to take off without warning.
Y’all want me to keep counting?