Lester Ricard Jr. had done his homework before becoming head football coach at Scotlandville Magnet School in the fall of 2019. Even before his first day on campus, Ricard believed he had something special in sophomore running back Marlon Gunn Jr.
“I knew his ceiling was high,” Ricard said.
Gunn proved Ricard’s projection correct immediately, racking up 104 yards and a touchdown on a mere four carries in a season-opening triumph for the Baton Rouge, LA, school against Woodlawn-Baton Rouge that year. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder would collect more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore and another 867 in a COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign to draw the interest of college recruiters from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences.
But after an official visit to Greenville on Sept. 11 to watch East Carolina take on South Carolina, Gunn opted to become a Pirate. He gave his verbal commitment to the ECU coaching staff on Sept. 23, making him the 16th member of the 2022 recruiting class.
“He called me after the game and said, ‘Coach, I love East Carolina,”’ Ricard said. “I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yes.’
“If you look at his options — Florida State, Virginia, Texas Christian — you think of these big schools. But Marlon never looked at it that way. It was about where he was comfortable and where he was happy. Obviously, (ECU running back) Coach (Chris) Foster and those guys just loved him to death. East Carolina outhustled everybody else and that’s the bottom line.”
Ricard is no stranger to East Carolina football. As a quarterback at Tulane from 2004 to 2006, he faced off against the Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in a memorable contest during his rookie season with the Wave.
Tulane rallied to take a 25-24 lead on Ricard’s second touchdown pass of the second half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. But the Pirates came back to reclaim the lead 27-25 on Cam Broadwell’s 30-yard field goal with 12 seconds left. ECU then had to survive a Hail Mary pass by Ricard in the closing seconds to seal the win, which was the first at home for then-Pirate head coach John Thompson.
“John Thompson, I broke his (home) losing streak man,” Ricard laughed. “I’ll never forget that — Hail Mary. Our receivers didn’t run down the field. I thought we had a chance. But I threw it like 30 yards out the back of the end zone.”
Ricard believes Gunn will have better success at Dowdy-Ficklen.
While splitting backfield time with another major college prospect in Chance Williams (offers from Arizona State, Memphis and South Alabama), Gunn piled up 1,084 yards on 88 carries and scored 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. He added 867 more and had nine scores as a junior in just seven games to earn first-team All-Metro honors for Class 5-A/4-A from The Advocate newspaper.
Gunn had picked up 371 yards on 45 carries and scored three times through games of Sept. 24 this year.
“Marlon Gunn is an exceptional man,” Ricard said. “What he is as a person, that’s the testimony for who he is as a football player. His character gives him an opportunity to be successful on the field. On top of that, he’s got the physical attributes — quick, explosive, powerful, great hands out of the backfield. He kind of covers all the bases.
“Honestly, his best days are ahead because since he’s been at Scotlandville he hasn’t had the best position coach. I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat it. So I’m interested in what’s going to happen with him at the next level when he gets a coach Foster tutoring him and teaching him the ropes as a running back.”
Ricard likens Gunn’s potential to that of a former Tulane teammate, Matt Forte. Forte was a standout at Slidell High in Louisiana before enrolling at Tulane where he set the school single-season rushing mark as a senior in 2007 with 2,127 yards. The Chicago Bears made him their second-round pick in the 2008 draft and he became one of the NFL’s top dual-threat running backs.
“Matt Forte is always the easy one,” Ricard said when asked to compare Gunn’s potential. “His size and ability to run does remind me of Matt. Matt also had that subtle change in the way he ran the football as a taller back, kind of light on his feet. He’s also kind of like Adrian Peterson, a downhill kid, one cut and get moving. He runs with that high style. And Marlon loves to use a stiff arm. He reminds me of (former Alabama back) Najee (Harris) with that.”
It’s not yet been determined if Gunn will graduate early from Scotlandville Magnet. But when Gunn does enroll at ECU, Ricard expects he’ll be ready to compete for playing time.
“He’s a college-made back right now,” Ricard said. “I think his work ethic more so than his talents will earn him a position.”