Culver City athlete Marquel Carter excels on and off the gridiron

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Culver City's Marquel Carter is probably one of the most under-the-radar athletes in California this year.

The second-year quarterback from the Los Angeles area projects as a defensive back or perhaps a slot at the next level. He even earned an invite to the prestigious Top Gun camp in Paisley, Fla., this past July.

As a junior, he won his team's offensive MVP award and earned first-team all-league and second-team All-CIF honors, and he followed that up with a gaudy senior campaign. All told this past year, he threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns, adding 12 tackles and three interceptions on defense.

But Carter, a solid 6-footer and nearly 200 pounds, is defined by more than just his stats on the field. His resume off the field includes a 3.3 GPA, consistent honor-roll recognition and a student-athlete award.

Truth be told, this kid is wise beyond his years.

When he was a freshman, Carter was shown the ropes on and off the field by several upperclassmen who provided a big brother relationship for him. Raised by a single mother, Tika Tinnon, who is the very definition of a "mother hen," Carter is an only child who very easily could have gotten caught up in the wrong crowd in the rough and tumble hallways of Culver. The maturity exhibited by several members of the varsity team instilled in Carter an appreciation for leadership and integrity.

Tika recalls taking her son to work at Sony Pictures when he was in elementary school and how he used the walk to halls of her office and interact with her coworkers. One coworker, Anthony Herron, would always take time away from his desk to interact with the wide-eyed youth, sharing his personal life experiences and insight. He even remembered to bring gifts for young Marquel's birthday and Christmas. One day he was playing around with Marquel, and Tika asked why he had such an interest in her son. He responded simply that he believed in investing in everyone's life around him, particularly with young people. Herron said the idea was to "pay it forward."

"Pay it forward is the idea that you invest in someone with your time and energy," Carter said. "They in turn will invest themselves into others, they in turn 'pay it forward.' It's how I try to live my life."

And this idea led Carter to start the Pay It Forward: Mentorship Movement, which will officially began this spring after more then a year of groundwork. Designed to replicate the mentorship he received when he was a freshman, the group will provide freshman athletes with mentors and positive role models from Culver City's varsity team. Budgetary issues prevented the group from launching this past fall, but it is a legacy he hopes to leave behind at Culver. Carter dislikes clicks and hopes the group will help others avoid pitfalls in their high school careers.

"I'm proof that you can be who you are and not conform to something because a group of people say so," Carter said. "I'm not the typical jock, I've been a scholastic athlete my whole career here."

But don't relegate Carter to just a dreamer or a hopeless visionary -- he's a young man who rolls up his sleeves in the community as well. This past summer, in between working out with his teammates and helping his mom at home, Carter tutored a young man in the neighborhood in Japanese. That's right: Japanese. Carter is so fluent -- he chose the language because he felt it provided him with a "challenge" -- that he served as a translator for his grandfather several years ago. A jazz musician who uses his music as a ministry, Carter's grandfather took Marquel to Japan and the football player served as a translator during the missionary trip. He calls it one of the best experiences of his young life. He engrosses himself in the culture, eating the food of the people and shopping at their markets.

"It is funny to see their reaction when I speak the language," Marquel said of interacting with someone from Japan. "They are shocked when I speak the language. They often ask if one of my parents is from Japan or if they were in military and stationed there. They are amazed to find out that I learned this in school."

His skills on and off the field are lining him up for his transition from the tough streets of Culver to college. He has gotten solid college interest from the likes of Nebraska, Utah and West Virginia, and received scholarship offers from Cornell and Princeton, where he is planning to visit on January 22nd. Carter figures to be a success at the college level with his quick feet -- and even quicker mind.

Despite having visits set in January for both Oregon and Georgia, it is rumored that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is a silent verbal to the Gamecocks. Lattimore remains one of the top players in the nation who is uncommitted. ... Penn State is pulling in a top-five recruiting class, including players such as Khairi Fortt, Robert Bolden, Dominique Easley and Mike Hull. One reason is that Joe Paterno is allegedly telling potential Penn State players that this class will be seniors during his final season. Let the countdown clock begin. ... A USC commit tells that he believes that Lache Seastrunk of Temple, Texas and the nation's top running back prospect is heading to USC. ... Tejay Johnson of New Jersey is a 6-foot-2 wide receiver with prototypical size and 4.4 speed. He committed to Rutgers after an official visit this past weekend. ... With the frame to add more size, Mike Douglas of Largo, Fla., made a verbal commitment to Kentucky earlier this week. Douglas is 6-2 and 225 pounds and should be a speed rush defensive end at the next level. He had offers from Missouri, Purdue, Florida Atlantic and Iowa, among others.

A consensus top 10 player in the nation, Ronald Powell has been enjoying a dominant senior season at Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley, Calif.) as both a defensive end and a tight end. Powell is most likely a silent verbal to Florida, as players have noted that he lobbied hard for them to join him in Gainesville when he took his official visit in September. Check out what makes the Gators and almost every other elite program go after Powell. (Got to love the pulsating star -- rather than just the bland circle or dot -- to indicate his location on the field.)