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The notion sounded so far-fetched to Marques Buford that he couldn’t help but chuckle. Play football at Nebraska? He didn’t know anything about the program, and vice versa.
That was mid-December — nearly five months before the Huskers offered a scholarship — at a time when Buford was starting to consider reclassifying from the 2020 class to 2021. The idea came from longtime friend Alante Brown, who had recently decided to join Nebraska.
Just think of it, Brown implored. Him starring at receiver. Buford thriving in the defensive secondary. Together.
“We were laughing about it, sort of fantasizing about it,” Buford said. “Now it’s crazy that that could be the case when I get there.”
And Buford — the top-rated postgraduate prospect in the 2021 cycle who will play this fall for St. Thomas More in Connecticut — is coming. The 6-foot, 189-pound defensive back publicly committed to Nebraska on Saturday afternoon, becoming the 13th known member of the class. Set to be an early enrollee, the consensus three-star prospect is the second defensive back in the group, joining recent addition Lardarius Webb Jr. out of Alabama.
This wasn’t always the plan for Buford — whose first name is pronounced Mar-KEES — though that has become a theme in his life. He grew up in the Chicago area and moved to Texas two years ago as the family followed his father’s job. He landed at Cedar Hill Trinity Christian, where he thrived as a two-way player mentored by a pair of former NFL defensive backs-turned coaches in Deion Sanders and Kevin Mathis.
Then Florida State offered before his senior prep season. He silently committed and shut down his recruiting.
It stayed that way until November, when the entire FSU staff was fired. Buford could have scrambled to sign elsewhere, he said, including Mississippi and Michigan State. But he didn’t want to rush the process.
“I’m not big on leaving as soon as things get hard; I was going to grind it out,” Buford said. “But ultimately, I’ve seen guys enter the transfer portal or quit football altogether if they don’t like the situation they’re in. That’s why I decided to go postgrad.”
Brown vouched for St. Thomas More — he attended the school last season — which was happy to welcome Buford, who logged a combined 92 tackles and five interceptions the past two seasons with a pair of state titles at Trinity Christian.
Marques Buford has the potential to play several different positions in college, and that will be some welcome versatility for Nebraska. Sam McKewon shares more thoughts on the new Husker recruit.
Meanwhile, interest in the defender as a 2021 prospect surged. He chose the Huskers over finalists Texas A&M, Washington State, Mississippi, Cal, Iowa State and Pittsburgh.
Why Nebraska? Brown played a “huge role,” Buford said.
Brown gave FaceTime tours of the facility. Brown was the guide last weekend, when Buford and his family trekked to Lincoln to look around. The friends since grade school always had a relationship based around honesty — often blunt honesty — and the younger buddy never heard a bad word about NU. He saw how quickly Brown acclimated since enrolling in January.
“It became a no-brainer,” Buford said. “It was like, ‘Yeah, that’s where I need to be.’ He can show me the ropes once I get there.”
The coaching staff was relentless as well, Buford said. Coaches sent detailed photos and information about the campus and community. And while some schools had staffers seemingly competing against each other to land his pledge, Nebraska’s teamwork approach won him.
“I’ve spoken to every single Nebraska coach there is through text message or phone — including Coach (Scott) Frost — multiple times,” Brown said. “I can’t even pinpoint one coach who recruited me more than another, and that was a big part of this was knowing the coaching staff was working as one.”
Nebraska's secondary has four seasoned veterans who could be starters. But the newcomers are mature, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said, and not afraid to challenge for playing time.
Buford is the third postgraduate player to commit to the Huskers after Brown and defensive lineman Casey Rogers (2018). He’s also set to join a room that recently lost 2020 safeties Henry Gray and Jaiden Francois to the transfer portal and continues to pursue 2020 junior college cornerback Nadab Joseph of Independence (Kan.) CC.
What the Huskers are getting is a player whom Trinity Christian coach Andre Hart nicknamed “Swiss Army Knife” for his wide range of abilities. Buford’s knowledge of schemes and coverages is elite, the coach said, allowing him to lock in on an opponent’s best playmaker each week.
Against a good quarterback, Buford would play safety. He moved to linebacker when facing a strong running back and corner against top receivers.
“He’s what the old-school coaches call a true football player,” Hart said. “You can put him on the field anywhere and you’ll have success.”
Buford said the vision cast by defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and secondary coach Travis Fisher was in line with those strengths. Ultimately, the chance was too good to pass up.
“They told me as real as they could anything else,” Buford said. “They want me to come in and be a ballplayer. Do what I do.”