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Weeki Wachee

Applefield signs early with Rutgers

Published:   |   Updated: December 16, 2013 at 04:01 PM

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WEEKI WACHEE - Marcus Applefield reached under the table and pulled out a gray hat with a bright red letter 'R' across the front.

Just like that, a packed room in the Weeki Wachee High media center knew the Hornets' standout left tackle had made his choice.

The senior then became the 4-year-old school's first Division I signee, as he put pen to paper and accepted a scholarship from Rutgers Friday afternoon.

"It was basically my home away from home and when I visited it I felt extremely comfortable," Applefield said of Rutgers. "I know (offensive coordinator) Coach (Ron) Prince and (head) Coach (Kyle) Flood are going to have my back. I put complete trust in them.

"I'm honored and blessed being the first person (from Weeki Wachee to go D-I), because I know kids would die to put themselves in my shoes."

The Scarlett Knights, who will move from the American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East) to the Big Ten next season, were the third team out of an estimated 24 that presented Applefield with an offer.

Even playing for a prep program only two years into its varsity existence, it's no secret how Applefield garnered so much attention: he stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 290 pounds.

In the end he went on four official visits, including Purdue, Virginia and Maryland, along with Rutgers.

"Seems like some days I was changing my mind every day," said Applefield, who said he anticipates continuing at left tackle. "But in the back of my head I always had Rutgers back there."

Friday was also Applefield's last day of school at Weeki Wachee. As an early signee, he'll head up Rutgers in January.

Applefield is taking advantage of a new NCAA rule interpretation that allows student-athletes graduating from high school and enrolling at a college at midyear to sign a financial aid agreement as early as Aug. 1.

Though Applefield cannot technically sign a National Letter of Intent at this point, the paperwork he filled out guarantees that Rutgers will honor his scholarship.

"The advantage of graduating early is pretty much getting my nose in the playbook, get a head start on my academics, which is extremely great, and getting to know the program really well," said Applefield, who also indicated he's at peace with missing the second half of his senior year.

"Some people have to grow up and mature a little bit faster than others to be successful."

Applefield has grown up - literally and figuratively - along with the program. As Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee noted at the ceremony, Applefield was 6-foot, 182 pounds as a freshman.

After the Hornets played a pair of exclusively junior varsity seasons, Applefield emerged as one of early faces of the team the past two years on the varsity level.

Looking back, Applefield recalled that first year, when the team had no upperclassmen to lead and didn't even have its own practice field - instead practicing at Fox Chapel Middle School.

"Coach Lee pretty much walked me personally through everything, how to be a leader to how to be a man," Applefield said. "He's like a second father to me."

Lee said he spoke to Applefield during his freshman year and strongly suggested he hit the weight room.

"You could tell then he had that frame, he was really going to put some size on," Lee said. "I wasn't expecting the amount he put in, but you could see he had potential from a size standpoint. With way he moved and how athletic he was, we just talked, saying. 'Your ticket to getting college paid for could be football.'

"In the weight room he took it upon himself. Never had to tell him to do anything twice. He went and did the workout, got everyone else involved and made sure that they did what they're supposed to do. Just an outstanding leader."

In 2012, Applefield earned an All-County selection and just completed another solid season for the still building Hornets.

Lee felt participating in the spring with the Scarlett Knights could give Applefield a chance to play as a true freshman.

Interestingly, Applefield admits going pro isn't his long-term plan. His primary goal is to work on academics at Rutgers. Though officially undecided on a major, he's leaning toward studying law.

Perhaps it's that kind of maturity and perspective that seemed to make his signing all the more joyous an occasion.

"This is a great moment, not just for me but for Weeki Wachee High School; most important, a great time for Marcus and his family," Lee said. "But it's important for the school.

"He's going to be an individual I greatly miss, not just from a coaching standpoint but from a human being standpoint. He's a great individual. He's one of those kids that if I ever had a daughter, I'd want her to be with someone like him. "

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