Football

In the clear: Marcus Sales enters the 2012 season refocused and rededicated to football following his season-long suspension

Beth Fritzinger and Nate Shron | The Daily Orange

The usually laid-back Marcus Sales was distraught. Sales, who was often upbeat and rarely showed emotion, couldn’t hold it together.

It was about 3 or 4 a.m. July 30, 2011, as Dan Sisto listened in shock while his friend fought through tears.

About six hours earlier, at 9:45 p.m. July 29, Sales and his brother were stopped by police after they ran a red light in Syracuse. They were arrested after drugs and drug paraphernalia were found in their car. Both would face felony drug charges.

Sisto said he could hear the pain in Sales’ voice during the emotional call, describing him as depressed and embarrassed.

“He was just so caught up that he wasn’t going to be able to play football anymore at Syracuse,” said Sisto, a close friend and high school teammate. “It was really the most heartbreaking thing to him.”

Head coach Doug Marrone suspended Sales indefinitely in August. But the drug charges were dropped in October, and Sales was reinstated to the team in the spring. The senior wide receiver is expected to provide a boost to an offense in desperate need of a playmaker after a disappointing 2011 season.

Sales worked tirelessly during his suspension so he would be ready if he received a second chance. Now, he’s anxious to get back on the field with his team again.

“I got over it; I got through it,” Sales said of his suspension. “It’s a new season. It’s in the past, so I’m just ready to move on.”

SU wide receivers coach Rob Moore said Sales is the fastest and strongest he has ever been in his career.

The senior weighs 195 pounds now, adding 18 pounds since he last played in 2010, which Moore said should help him pick up yards after the catch. He also shaved his 40 time to the 4.5-range for the first time.

And Moore said Sales is more mature, redefining himself after a challenging season away from the team. It’s a maturity Sales lacked on the field early in his career.

The former high school All-American has struggled to achieve his potential. In his first two seasons, Sales hauled in 42 catches for 484 yards and four touchdowns. As a junior in 2010, Sales only caught five passes for 39 yards in the Orange’s first nine games as he saw limited playing time.

“I think that was a case where Marcus just had to learn and understand what was expected of him on the practice field,” said Moore, who joined the SU coaching staff that season. “And that’s a mantra that we preach to all our young players that come here.

“There’s a certain way you’re expected to practice, and if you can’t give us that, we can’t put you on the field.”

Moore said that toward the middle of the season, Sales started to give the effort expected. The increased effort led to more playing time and a strong finish to his inconsistent season, highlighted by a three-touchdown, 172-yard performance in the Pinstripe Bowl.

“He’s a young man that I had a rollercoaster of a ride with the first year,” said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. “It ended on a very, very high note and never really got to continue that ride.”

His arrest ended the ride for 2011 and jeopardized his career.

But in the hours after his arrest — through the tears — Sales vowed to Sisto he was ready to work out like old times. He needed to stay in shape for the next season, and he needed his high school quarterback’s help.

Five or six days a week, they met at Nottingham High School and Christian Brothers Academy, and they went through planned workouts for two and a half hours.

Sales ran his routes. They ran sprints and hills. Sisto fired him more passes. They did cardio and jump rope. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they followed it up with 90 more minutes of lifting weights at Gold’s Gym.

At first, Sales was distracted by his off-field issues. Eventually, he never wanted to stop working out. It was an astounding transformation from their time together at CBA when Sisto said Sales didn’t believe in working hard because everything was given to the star athlete.

“I’ve seen him grow so much through this time in his work ethic. It’s sort of unbelievable to me,” Sisto said.

As Sales worked with his eye on a return to the program in 2012, the Orange played out 2011.

Sales was supposed to be the Orange’s top receiver going into last season. Former SU teammates Antwon Bailey and Dorian Graham both called Sales a dependable playmaker.

He had sure hands and an understanding of the position. And after his breakout game in the Pinstripe Bowl, teammates and coaches finally saw the talent that made him a coveted recruit out of high school.

“He brought a lot of respect to the wide receiver position,” Bailey said. “And without having him there, those wide receivers, they had to gain respect, so we started off with a lot of eight-man boxes and a lot of safeties down in the box.

“He would have been a big help for us last season.”

But Sales had to watch from afar. He stayed in touch with his teammates every week. Graham said he was in constant communication with Sales and that he called after each game.

Bailey also spoke and hung out with him regularly. Sales asked about how his teammates, especially the wide receivers, were doing. Bailey said while he longed to get back onto the field, Sales stayed in good spirits and supported the team through his suspension.

After the Orange’s 49-23 upset of No. 11 West Virginia in October, Sales was the first to call Bailey. He was ecstatic, praising Bailey and the receivers for a stellar performance before meeting up with his teammate on South Campus later that night.

“If you didn’t know the situation, you wouldn’t have known that he didn’t play,” Bailey said.

Five days after the Orange defeated the Mountaineers, his hopes for a return to SU received a boost when the charges against him were dropped. Two weeks later, after meeting with the University Judicial Board, his suspension was lifted.

Sisto said it was a “turning point” for Sales. Because the school allowed him to attend classes again, he was optimistic it would lead to his reinstatement in the football program.

Sisto noticed Sales going harder at workouts. Once he was officially back with the team in March, he shifted into another gear. All the hard work had paid off.

“I knew I was going to have a chance to get back on the field,” Sales said. “So I mean it was just me being ready whenever I got the call, so that’s what my mentality was the whole time.”

Now, Sales will continue the ride interrupted in 2011. Moore expects Sales to make plays and pick up where he left off at Yankee Stadium two years ago.

Sales, though, isn’t looking back. After an emotional year during which he was sure his football career was over, he’s leaving the past behind and preparing to run back onto the Carrier Dome turf to begin his senior season.

“I’m just glad to be back out here competing with my friends and my teammates,” Sales said. “I mean, just being out here, just to be able to play football — it’s a blessing.”

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