Marcellus Wiley arrived on Morningside Heights looking like a normal first-year. Well, about as normal as a 6-foot-3, 200-pound football player can look.
He was a tailback on the freshman football team and he ran track. He ran the 400m, but as Associate Athletics Director for Enrichment Services, former head track and field coach, and mentor Jacqueline Blackett remembered, “He ran a 380m, because the last 20 meters were really ugly.”
He only ran track for a year, but as a junior, two inches and 50 pounds later, Wiley outgrew his offensive position and former head football coach and current Associate Athletics Director for Intercollegiate Sports Programs Ray Tellier figured that he had three options for Wiley.
“Tight end, linebacker and defensive end,” Tellier said. “It was easy. Tight end was not a high-impact position, linebackers have a bit more to learn with reads and a defensive end has a shorter learning curve. So we were going to let him put his head down and play.”
Did he ever. Wiley quickly became an impact defensive player and a legitimate NFL prospect. He was the 52nd player drafted in the 1997 NFL Draft, starting a 10-year professional football career with the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wiley’s biography reads like something out of a well-written sports novel. As he indicates on his Twitter page that has more than 18,000 followers, he’s an Ivy League graduate, a retired NFL All-Pro defensive end, co-host of ABC’s Winners Bracket show, and an ESPN analyst.
He leaves out Columbia Athletics Hall of Famer, innovative business executive and mentor to many. Of all his roles, he holds the one of mentor most dear.
“It is critically important for Columbia alumni to stay involved,” Wiley noted. “My ability to mentor grows every day. With every opportunity I have, I can show student-athletes that they can be leaders on and off the field.”
“I know when I got drafted I inspired some Columbia Football players to NFL aspirations,” Wiley continued. “There are so many outlets for Columbia students. I hope I can motivate them to realize that they can accomplish anything.”
Alumni involvement like Wiley’s is vital to the success and development of Columbia Football and the athletics program in general. As Norries Wilson, Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football described, “it is my belief that staying engaged with alumni for the long haul and having other interests in them besides financial contributions is paramount to continued support and growth of the alumni base. It is my opinion that dollars are not the only ‘treasures’ that alumni of Columbia have to offer.”
As Wiley offers his time, talent and treasures to Columbia, he also has high aspirations for Columbia Athletics. “I am energized by the direction that Dianne (Murphy) and Coach (Norries) Wilson are taking the football program and athletic program in general.”
Wiley understands that keeping athletics and academics as cocurricular is critical to any long-term success. “Columbia student-athletes have to strike a balance between academics and athletics,” Wiley explained, citing his own experience as a student-athlete.
“The first part of that balance is psychological. Truly understanding that we can achieve that greatness on and off the field. I believe we can achieve national prominence in athletics, as well as in academics. I can devote my energy to helping us accomplish that.”
As hard as he worked for all of his opportunities, confidence and determination come easy for Wiley. He is a natural leader and that is evident at any Columbia Athletics function he attends. Students gravitate towards him and hang on his every word. According to Tellier, he’s always been a leader.
“Marcellus was a second-round draft pick, and as good as that is, he was an even better leader,” Tellier said. “I remember his senior year, a couple of first-years missed a lift the first week of classes. We would have addressed it, but before I even knew about, Marcellus came into my office and asked to speak to the first-years after practice.
“All the rookies were taking a knee in a circle around him and he was laying into them. He told them we don’t miss lifts and it better not happen again,” Tellier recalled. “He used more colorful words of course, but that was just Marcellus. He always just got it. He’s probably the best leader I ever coached.”
That leadership gift was not necessarily inborn. Wiley gives a great deal of credit to his alma mater.
“It is because of Columbia that I am afforded a lot of these privileges and opportunities. I want our student-athletes to know how big of an opportunity they have,” Wiley said.
“I like the direction Columbia is going. When I come back to campus, I can feel the respect and feel the love that athletics is now commanding,” Wiley explained. “We are getting ready to do great things. Call me a dreamer, but Columbia is the greatest university in the world, in the greatest city in the world. Why not now? Why not us?”
If Wiley’s career path is any indication, it shows that anything is possible with the right attitude and proper motivation.