Marcus Trice started under the overhang in the end zone and jogged slowly onto the green turf at Apogee Stadium, just like the rest of his senior teammates.
Most met their mothers and fathers on senior day at North Texas, while others were welcomed by girlfriends or grandparents.
Trice ran into the arms of what looked like a family reunion before the Mean Green’s home finale against Texas-San Antonio on Nov. 23. Ann and Pierre Givens, his aunt and uncle, were there, as were Ed and Tina Taylor, family friends who served as his legal guardians since 2008, and their son Darius Taylor, a friend who is more like a brother.
Trice often has wondered how his life might have turned out had it not been for each member of the group that helped guide him from St. Louis to Mesquite, through a two-year stint playing for Oklahoma and finally to UNT.
Trice grew up in the rough sections of the north side of St. Louis and the suburb of Pagedale. Three cousins and a close friend were shot and killed and another died of a drug overdose in those neighborhoods over the last six years.
Trice’s mother, Charissie Evans, thought he was on his way to a similar fate and convinced him to start over in Mesquite — a new town with new people to guide him.
That decision changed Trice’s life.
The Taylor and Givens families provided Trice with opportunities that paved his way on a life-altering journey that will reach a milestone on New Year’s Day, when he starts at safety for UNT in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“Without the help of so many people, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Trice said. “My mom did an excellent job of raising me and taught me to be respectful of people and build relationships. That’s a big reason why people were willing to help me along the way.
“It means a lot to me to know that people have helped me and all they’ve asked of me is to love them in return.”
The journey hasn’t always been easy for Trice, who left behind everything he knew in St. Louis in 2004 and started over in Mesquite.
Trice came to Texas hoping his aunt and uncle could help him turn his life around and capitalize on his potential as an athlete and a student.
What Trice, a powerfully built 5-8 safety with an ever-present smile, never anticipated was how a new extended family would grow around him and foster his development into an all-conference performer, a college graduate and team captain.
“He’s an emotional guy and channels energy really well on the football field,” senior linebacker Zach Orr said. “The guys look to him for leadership. Off the field, he’s a fun guy to be around and is always making jokes. You always see a smile on his face.”
Evans is still involved in her son’s life, even though she lives in St. Louis and has seen him play only three times during his college career.
She follows every play of every game and knows that while she isn’t there in person, she played a key role in Trice’s success, partly because of her decision to put Trice on a plane to Texas and place her trust in others to help raise him.
“It’s been hard every day since he’s been away, but I wanted the best for him,” Evans said. “St. Louis was not going to be the best opportunity. I thank God that I made that decision.”
Escaping St. Louis
When Trice looks back on his time in St. Louis, he can see how his life easily could have careened out of control.
Evans worked at a Proctor & Gamble Co. factory and also as a home health care specialist to support Trice and his younger brother, Marquise Williams. Trice’s father, Johnny Trice Jr., once was offered a chance to try out for the Cincinnati Reds after high school but was arrested for selling drugs and squandered the opportunity. He has been in and out of jail but has continued to be involved in Trice’s life.
“I had to grow up faster than I should have and take care of my brother,” Trice said. “When my mom wasn’t working, she was asleep. I never had a chance to go out and do the things other kids got to do.”
Trice wasn’t faring well in school and was spending time on the streets with friends, who were leading him down what he now realizes was the wrong path in a city where it would have been easy to lose his way. St. Louis often is listed as one of the most dangerous cities in America.
A few of Trice’s friends are serving life sentences in prison.
“I was born and raised here,” Evans said. “As a young black man, he had two strikes against him.”
That was the reason Evans sat Trice down for a conversation they now see as a turning point in his life.
The two discussed Trice’s future in the living room of their home in St. Louis and the possibility of him moving in with Ann and Pierre Givens.
The couple, whose 16-year-old son, Michael, had been shot to death in 1990, had offered to take Trice in. Moving would give Trice a chance to get out of St. Louis and pursue his dream of playing college football.
“This was the best place for him to come, play football and have a chance,” Ann Givens said. “He had a lot of friends in St. Louis who were going to jail and was hanging out with the wrong group. We thought that we could get him out of that environment.”
The more Trice thought about the opportunity, the more he thought it would be the best plan.
“I knew it would be easier on my mom,” Trice said. “She wouldn’t have to do as much to provide for me.”
Trice also knew that a move would provide him with new influences and take away the temptations of the streets.
“My mom asked me if moving was something I would be willing to do,” Trice said. “I told her yes because St. Louis is not a good environment. I could see that I was being influenced in a negative way by some of the people I was around.”
Trice moved to Mesquite for what was supposed to be a trial run of a year. That was nearly a decade ago.
Trice has thrived since but has been forced to say goodbye to many of the loved ones he left behind.
Trice’s cousin Joseph was shot and killed in June 2009. Cousin Tory was killed in September of that same year, while Tez was shot to death in May 2011.
Trice’s childhood best friend, Brian White, was shot and killed in 2007, while another close friend, Brian Campbell, died of a drug overdose this spring.
Trice’s stepfather, Willie Gray, died a year ago of a heart attack.
Each death hit Trice hard, largely because he knows he could have met a similar fate had it not been for the opportunities afforded him.
That realization motivates Trice.
“God has put me in a position to be successful,” Trice said. “I feel like it would be a slap in his face if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity I have been blessed with. I could be dead or in jail or strung out on drugs, but I’m not because God gave me an outlet and an opportunity to be around positive people.”
A whole new world
The families Trice met in Mesquite helped him work through the issues that haunted him.
“I wasn’t the easiest kid to raise,” Trice said. “I had a bad attitude and a smart mouth.”
Ann and Pierre Givens knew Trice from his days growing up in St. Louis. The couple looked past Trice’s problems, saw his potential and took him in.
“He just needed someone to believe in him,” Pierre Givens said.
Over the next few years, Trice became like a part of the family, not only in the Givens household but also in the home of Bob and Barbara Wood, and especially the Taylors.
Trice became friends with Andrew Wood, one of his middle school and high school teammates. When Trice went by the Woods’ home for a birthday party, Barbara Wood asked why Trice would come for a party but not Bible study.
Trice was a regular at Bible study from that point on.
“He was a cool kid who had charisma and leadership ability,” Barbara Wood said. “People were drawn to him. He had a tender side. Our relationship was based on four words: ‘Do you trust me?’”
Trice also became close with the Taylor family through their sons Darius and Darnell Taylor. All three developed into standout players for Mesquite.
Trice bounced around from one home to the next, staying with the Givens, Woods and Taylors. He also lived with Evans after she moved to Texas in 2007.
That arrangement lasted for a little more than a year before Trice’s grandmother Evelyn Johnson, who was still living in St. Louis, was diagnosed with cancer. Evans had to move back to care for her, which posed a problem.
When Trice moved out of the Givens’ home, another relative moved in and took his room. He couldn’t move back in, and he didn’t want to go back to St. Louis.
“I thought about Marcus going back to St. Louis,” Ed Taylor said. “We wouldn’t have felt right if he would have gone back to St. Louis and found out that something happened.”
The Taylors had two sons and a daughter at home but took Trice in anyway and endured the strain, both financially and emotionally.
“It was tough,” Tina Taylor said. “We had the boys and my youngest daughter. My job was not full time, so I had to get a second job to make ends meet. It was hard to make sure everyone was where they needed to be and do the cooking and cleaning, but I enjoyed it.”
Trice was still growing up. Tina Taylor said he often would question authority and lacked respect for women.
Mesquite assistant coach Ryan Porter remembers Trice struggling in school.
“Marcus didn’t always understand everything, and if things didn’t make sense he wouldn’t do it,” Porter said. “He got to mouthing on the sidelines his senior year. Darius pinned him to the ground and was getting ready to pound him.”
Trice was on the verge of being shipped back to St. Louis on multiple occasions for breaking rules, but he always found a way out of trouble.
Along the way, Ed Taylor became a role model and the father figure Trice never had.
Trice cannot recall Taylor missing a day of work. He watched Taylor help with household chores like cooking and cleaning.
“He showed me what it’s like to be a man,” Trice said. “He goes to work every morning at 2 a.m., comes home at noon, takes a nap and then helps his wife cook. He showed me that men make sacrifices.”
Trice transformed on the field as well as away from it, largely because Ed Taylor held him accountable and commanded his respect. By his senior year, Trice was ranked among the top high school cornerbacks in the country, despite being only 5-8.
Trice set up shop in a room at the Woods’ home he referred to as his office, where he would sit and talk with college coaches from across the country.
Bob Wood went with Trice on his official visit to Oklahoma.
“The whole process when he went on his visit was special for him and for me,” Wood said. “We went up there for a day. The first thing he said when he saw the other players was, ‘They are not that tall.’”
Finding a home
Trice committed to Oklahoma shortly after his official visit to the school, a decision that resulted in another detour in his life.
Trice played sparingly in two years at Oklahoma, was surpassed by younger players and taken out of the comfort zone he found with his newfound support system in Mesquite.
“I needed a fresh start and wanted to be close to home,” Trice said.
Dan McCarney had just taken over at UNT after the 2010 season and added Trice as a transfer largely on the recommendation of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, a close friend.
Trice wasn’t the same cocky player he was when he went to Norman.
“Being at the bottom humbled him as a player,” said Darius Taylor, who went on to star alongside his brother at Sam Houston State. “He was one of the top corners in the country when he went to OU. He found out a lot about himself up there.”
Trice sat out his first season at UNT as a transfer and has started each of the last two. At first, he tested McCarney’s patience.
“When he first got here, he was a little out of control with his personality,” McCarney said. “He wanted to win so badly, but you have to do it within the confines of the rules of college football. He has really grown up that way.”
Trice isn’t as apt to fight with teammates in practice or draw personal foul penalties in games now, and he no longer struggles to play within the confines of a system. His development began with a redshirt year, continued when he started last season and led to a breakout year this fall.
Trice was voted a captain by his teammates before the season and went on to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors after intercepting five passes. His performance is one of the reasons UNT enters the bowl season ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense with an average of 18.1 points allowed per game.
Trice credits the determination he developed after reflecting on what he felt was a mediocre junior season for motivating him to excel as a senior.
“To see him mature and become a disciplined player has been neat to see,” UNT defensive coordinator John Skladany said. “He has an infectious personality with his enthusiasm and his love for people and life.”
No one is prouder of Trice than his mother, who is still back in St. Louis following his career from afar through phone calls. The two talk at least twice a week.
“I don’t think words can explain the way it feels to see Marcus shining,” Evans said. “To put him on a plane when he was 12 years old was hard. I let God lead me and let him go. I thank God I did.”
That decision allowed Trice to come under the guidance of a host of people in Mesquite who became like a new family — one that helped guide him to UNT, where he has capitalized on his potential.
Trice is the first member of his family to go to college and graduated this month. He hopes to continue his career in the NFL, a goal McCarney thinks Trice has a chance to reach because of his abilities on special teams. He’s blocked three kicks and excelled on UNT’s coverage teams.
“I didn’t do it on my own,” Trice said. “The people I’ve been around have impacted me in a positive way and helped me become the man I am today.”
Those people welcomed Trice into their arms as he ran onto the field at Apogee Stadium one last time on senior day, just like they did nearly a decade ago when he left his old life in St. Louis and arrived in Mesquite — the first step in a journey that changed Trice’s life.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870.