Jihad Marks caught 99 balls for the Desert Edge High Scorpions and led Arizona with 1,716 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns en route to a 4A championship game appearance.
Last week, he thanked his parents and supporters gathered on National Signing Day, before announcing his decision on where he would play college football.
“For the next four years, I will continue my academic and football career at,” he said, pausing to put on a logo-laden baseball cap, “Northern Colorado.”
Marks smiled with excitement as many of the most important people in his life hugged and celebrated his choice.
Jose Lucero, who coached the Scorpions this season before accepting a job with Phoenix St. Mary’s, said he is proud of the way Marks has grown over the years, both as a football player and student.
“His attitude, his demeanor, his leadership, those things I’m never going to forget about Jihad. I was so fortunate to coach him this year and just be a part of the ride. And watching him do the things he did on the field, sometimes it would just amaze you, but it’s the off-the-field-stuff I’m never going to forget,” said Lucero.
“Whatever school he goes to is going to get a great player, but an even better person.”
The tough decision, which ultimately came down to a choice between Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona University, was made even more difficult due to familial ties.
His brother, Elijah, played for NAU after graduating from Desert Edge in 2014, and several other talented players from Maricopa County will don Lumberjacks uniforms next academic year.
Marks told his family at a Sunday dinner a few days before his announcement. He said he was influenced greatly after a home visit by Ed McCaffery, the Northern Colorado coach and former standout NFL wide receiver.
“They’re bringing in a lot of new guys at all the positions, and two great quarterbacks I believe can compliment me for the next four years,” Marks said.
With high school football behind him, Marks has taken some time to reflect on his career with Desert Edge football. Now he is focused on succeeding in the classroom until graduation and competing with the Scorpion track team in the spring.
And, he is excited to continue striving for football and academic excellence at the next level.
“I’m ready,” Marks said. “I’d go up there tomorrow if they’d let me and be pumped.”