Take the time to get familiar with Azusa Pacific offensive tackle Luke Marquardt. His path to the NFL Draft is not typical by any stretch but his size (6’8″ 315lbs), athleticism, attitude, and the mean streak make him stand out as a sleeper to watch out for on the third day of the draft. The APU Cougar discusses how he got here, coming from the NAIA, being coached by Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater, why he will succeed in the NFL, regardless of when or if he is picked, and his great work off the field with mission work.
Peter Smith: You grew up in Washington, so how did you end up at Azusa Pacific?
Luke Marquardt: I went to high school up in Washington at Skyline High School in Sammamish. I just played basketball. I played football all my life and then just decided basketball was the right move and switched to basketball my freshman year of high school. Played through high school, played basketball and when I came to APU, it was originally for basketball. I came down for a Spring break visit and talked with the head basketball coach and he was going to meet me there.
The day I came down, I was only here for one day, and the head basketball coach wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened, but it was just by chance that we were walking by the football coach’s office, Coach Victor Santa Cruz, and just decided to go in there and meet him and introduce myself. I went in there and he was talking to me; he could tell I had great size. He came and watched my open gym basketball workout earlier, so he was saying “you had great size and I love the athleticism; we’d like to have you to come out for tight end.” I came out and threw around with a couple quarterbacks that same day. He called me up a few days and offered me a little bit of scholarship money. I played tight end the first year, switched to tackle, and eventually earned a full ride scholarship.
PS: Talk about the feeling that first practice back in football.
LM: As soon as I decided I was going to play football and he offered me money, I was ecstatic about it. I have always been a physical player, being a basketball player; I have always had that drive in me to dominate people. As a basketball player in high school, I was always very physical and fouled out a lot. I was kind of a late bloomer and it was great having this confidence coming to a great university. That first day of camp, we didn’t have all the NCAA regulations, we were NAIA, so we were doing two-a-days for the first month and a half of straight two-a-days. It was definitely a grind and it was definitely something I just kept looking forward and saying, “Alright, well I can definitely do something with this and I’m just going to take it a day at a time and first win the starting spot”, which was winning that tight end position, win that starting spot at tight end. I wanted to dominate at that. Then when I was switched to tackle, it was the same thing; win the starting spot and be successful there.
PS: Do you feel like your background in basketball helps you with your development as a football player?
LM: Yea, I would definitely say so. Growing up, playing basketball and football; basketball was just more emphasis on footwork and being a technician that way, so it’s definitely given me quicker feet. Being at a tight end position, it helped as well. Just learning to run and working on that hand-eye coordination, so basketball definitely played a great part in developing me as a player and developing my body coordination for sure.
PS: How did you do as a tight end and what caused the move from tight end to tackle?
LM: Well, I was good at tight end. I redshirted my first year and then the next year I won that starting position. The first couple games, I had a few catches but was mostly used as a run blocking tight end because our offensive line was really struggling that year; we had a lot of injuries, we weren’t winning that many games, so we needed all the help we could get on the line. And halfway through that season, I texted my coach and I was like “I’m pretty much an extended tackle anyway; might as well help out more and play the full game.” I just remember texting my offensive coordinator saying “Hey, if you guys need me at left tackle, I’d be happy to do that for you.” He responded right away and he was like, “Luke, we’d love you to do that.” We had a bye week that week so I was just practicing at left tackle that whole week and that next game, I started at left tackle and started every game since.
PS: You missed this past season with a broken foot. Any thought of trying to take a medical red shirt and coming back for another year?
LM: There definitely was a thought, yea. There was a hairline fracture and the original diagnosis was I was going to come back halfway through that season, so that’s what we had been playing. It ended up being that we saw a different doctor down in Los Angeles, Kerlan-Jobe, and he suggested that I get surgery on it so we put two screws in there. My basis for not medical red shirting was that I had enough great film from last year and I have all of this attention now; I’m getting a lot attention. With the team, we couldn’t go to the playoffs, because we on probation from the NCAA, because we were going up to Division II. We couldn’t go to the playoffs or anything, so it felt like a good time to move on. I had been here for five years and I was ready for the next step and am excited about that.
PS: When did you know you were on the NFL’s radar?
LM: When that dream kind of conspired was after my sophomore year and towards the beginning of my junior year, when Coach Jackie Slater came into the program. Just talking with him, he’s been working with me, he like “You know Luke, you have great potential…,” and all of my coaches have said that too, “…great footwork for your size and you can be something greater if you put your mind to it and be where you need to be athletically, physically, mentally most of all.” Before that junior season, I just ran with that and let that passion thrive in every game; just giving 100% in practice and knowing that would carry over in the games. That’s the kind of player that I am; a guy who gives it all not only in games, but a practice guy as well. I would just say talking to Slater and coaches. They kind of inspired me to look forward to that.
PS: Talk about your experience practicing with a Hall of Famer like Coach Slater.
LM: It was an incredible experience and I’m very blessed to have him in my life. I have great communication with him and a great relationship and he’s kind of challenged me and pushed me for bigger and better things. Just to increase my game and just the mentality, he’s the most intense guy you’ll meet. He’s mid 50’s and has more energy than all of us put together. He only has one volume and that’s yelling. It’s been great encouragement having him here and I attribute my success to his coaching and putting a great foot forward in everything he has told me to do.
PS: Are teams looking at you to play on the left side, right side or both?
LM: I’d say both, left and right. I’ve flown out to the Panthers, Miami Dolphins, then Friday I leave for the 49ers, then the Giants, and the Patriots.
PS: What did you take away from your time practicing with guys like San Jose State OT David Quessenberry and USC DE Wes Horton?
LM: They’re great players. It was great seeing guys that size and stature. They can move really well, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before, but it was a great experience working with David and working with Slater, kind of seeing his technique and footwork. It was a great experience. I wish the best for them with the draft.
PS: You have a game on Sunday. Who wins? You or Wes Horton?
LM: (Laughs) Well me, of course. That’s the competitive nature in me. I’m not going to bow down for anyone, I don’t care who you are. I’m going to give everything I have; I’m a competitive guy like that. I’m going to win that starting spot and I’m going to be successful. That’s what’s brought me here. Going from not playing football and then coming from an NAIA school, and missing my whole senior season; just have that constant competitive edge and that positive outlook that has carried me this far.
PS: Does coming from an NAIA school give you a chip on your shoulder to prove it these guys who got D-1 scholarships and everything else?
LM: Yea, I would say and just going back to high school, I have talked to a lot of guys from high school once in a while that played football there and I even played one of them who went to Southern Oregon. So that was great, just dominating him. I definitely carry that chip from guys that knew me in high school and then not getting recruited, obviously not football, because I didn’t play in high school. Just the different coaches and I definitely have that drive to be successful and that’s something that definitely does push me to prove them wrong, but that’s not why I play. I play for the love of the game and my desire and that’s kind of what has grown from these past five years here; my desire to play in the NFL and play for as long as possible.
PS: You also trained with TEs Nick Kasa and Ryan Otten. Did you show off the tight end skills?
LM: (Laugh) I didn’t do any tight end work. We would throw around and stuff. I can still throw a football 70 yards and we’ve got it on film. I was roommates with Nick Kasa; great guy, great athlete. He has a big body as well; great blocker. It was cool training with them and getting in the weight room with them. It was great pushing one another.
PS: Where do you feel like you need to improve to be successful at the next level?
LM: I tend to come off the ball a little too quickly and guys tend to get inside a little bit. I need to get a little more patient from pass set and not getting ahead of guys too quickly.
PS: So your big take away on what you need to improve is that you’re too fast?
LM: (Laugh) Yea, it’s a good answer, huh?
PS: Why are you going to be successful in the NFL?
LM: When a team chooses to draft me or whatever happens, they are going to get a guy that’s going to have a great work ethic and put the team above them self. That’s what I’ve learned at Azusa Pacific; just a brotherhood. We didn’t have 50,000 people in the stands; you didn’t have that drive, but what pushes is your brothers on the team, the coaches that you play for and that competitive nature; dominating that guy in front of you.
You’re going to get a guy of character; a guy that motivates others, and a competitive athlete that is going to do everything he can to compete against his own teammates for a starting spot; someone who is great learner and take great coaching. And someone that is going to be in the weight room a lot; I gained 100lbs in 5 years, I love the weight room, love working hard. That’s what I carry to the NFL as well; never being satisfied. That’s one thing I think you can never take for granted. I mean yea, I’m going to make the NFL, but what’s the thing? The next thing is winning that starting spot, making it to the Pro Bowl, playoffs, the Super Bowl. There’s always something you can be better at; that’s the type of player I am, the kind of man I am. I’m never satisfied with anything, no matter how successful. I’m always looking to what comes next and how I can work to get that.
PS: What was your reaction to the invitation to the combine?
LM: I was very excited, yea. Very pumped; it was disheartening missing my whole senior season and I was like,”ah, it’s going to mess everything up,” but I was faithful and God provided. I think it was a great testament to stay confident and being positive with everything. I was just very excited and my family was very happy for me and I was excited to prove myself. I could only do bench press and that was another hurdle I had to go through, but it was great meeting all of the coaches and players and just being that atmosphere was very humbling and a great experience.
PS: What did teams want to know at the combine?
LM: Well obviously with my injury, they wanted to know about that. They wanted to know, coming from an NAIA school, how you’re going to do at the next level; how is that transition going to be? A lot of them would say, “A lot of bigger men are kind of soft, but when we see your film, we could tell right away that you’re a guy that dominates and a guy that doesn’t hold back and doesn’t let guys come into him, but goes to them first.” I love contact and I love hitting guys. That’s always something I’m going to love to do. They didn’t question that, but that’s what they see in a lot of guys so it’s encouraging to see you, a big man, hit like that.
PS: Have you found yourself star struck at all during this process?
LM: When I went into my first formal meeting, I had a meeting with the Patriots, the Colts, and the Bengals. My first meeting with the Patriots, I knew Coach Belichick was going to be in there and everything, but when I first walked in there, you just kind of sit back and he was just chilling in there and it was like ‘Oh wow, this is Coach Belichick right here.” It was cool; I took it and ran with it. The whole time at the combine, I felt like, you know, I belong there. That’s something I pushed forward and I feel like I can compete with all of these guys. Nothing should hold me back from my history or playing in the NAIA; I don’t think that’s something to look down upon. I just keep looking towards the future with everything.
PS: Aside from Coach Slater, talk about another coach who has helped you with your development in football.
LM: Coach Santa Cruz, our head coach, he was the one that initially took that chance on me. He saw the potential and the talent right away so I give credit to him for taking that chance. My offensive coordinator now, he was my tight end coach originally, Coach Rudy Carlton, and he poured into my life and encouraged me greatly my first year there because I was struggling learning plays and just learning the offense, what it meant to play a full football game. He would help me after practice working on technique and in that aspect, I felt like both of them had a great deal of influence in my success as a player from the beginning.
PS: Your mom is an accomplished basketball player, so taking dunking out of it, who wins a game of horse between the two of you?
LM: (Laugh) Obviously me. I mean she’s got a nice shot, but I will just overpower her. I’ve got a pretty good shot too. I know it’s hard to see with these big arms or whatever; linemen can’t really shoot. I’ve got a pretty good shot. We’ve played a few times.
PS: Talk about your service missions you’ve gone on. Is this something you plan to continue doing in the NFL?
LM: Yea, I mean that’s something that I’ve always- my parents, my mom was, her parents were missionaries in Korea and West Africa, Liberia. My dad’s parents were missionaries in Liberia for twenty years and that’s where they met in high school. And so I have that background to serve and to broaden your horizons; I mean people take for granted everything they have here, but when you go to another country, you see so much more. You see so much hurt and pain with kids that are just the happiest kids you’ve ever seen, but they are dealing with the worst conditions, dealing with no parents, so it was great being able to pour into their lives and feed them, put clothes on their back.
This past summer, we did a couple sports camps, me and a couple teammates of mine; we went to the Dominican Republic. We’ve been going down there ever since I was 12 years old; I’ve been trying to go every year. We go for about two weeks. We did a camp for about 750 kids, starting first week, we had age 5 and the next group would be 8 and 9, and so every week we worked with a different group. It was a great experience to do all of that. I’ve been to Cyprus with a friend of mine and his parents are missionaries out there. We did that junior year of high school; get to study abroad over there. His dad is still out there and they’re do missions work and he’s coach of a football team out there. They travel to Turkey and play different teams. And then with Malawi, Africa, with my uncle and his organization; we did missions work over there for about two months. So it’s definitely a passion and definitely something I want to carry on to the next level and use football as a vehicle for that; to keep continuing that and use my influence with that in the NFL for a greater purpose and serving others overseas. I like to think we have a bigger purpose than what we think of ourselves.
PS: What’s the reaction, especially with this last summer in the Dominican Republic, when they see a guy who is 6’8” and 300lbs?
LM: (Laugh) Yea, they freak out, definitely. Kids right away, when we were walking in villages and they’re all hanging on my arms and asking me to throw them up in the air, so that first time we were there, I threw about 50 kids up in the air. You just can’t say no to their little faces and so it was fun to see them laugh and have fun with me. I firmly believe that, man. I got that from my coaches and everyone around me.
I was able to get a few follow up questions to Luke after his Pro Day.
Were you happy with how your pro day went?
Luke: Yeah, I was happy with it. I was disappointed I wasn’t able to do the 40 and show more of what I can do, but I was happy with the position drills, especially since I wasn’t able to do too much of the training before. I felt fast and explosive, so I thought it turned out well. We had a good turnout of 15 NFL teams and some offensive line coaches.
What type of feedback did you get from teams that you visited with on that day?
Luke: Great feedback, a lot of them told me I looked quick and explosive. I met with Coach Solari of the 49ers right after and that was really fun and encouraging.
What have teams told you they would like to see out of you that maybe they haven’t seen?
Luke: Obviously they want to see me in action and see me playing. I didn’t get to do the Senior Bowl and missed the season so the biggest concern they have is seeing me in action in person.
Luke has a great attitude as well as a ton of confidence going into the NFL Draft and for the team that gets him, they should be thrilled for the mentality he brings to the locker room. In addition, the other guys on the team better watch out because he is intent on coming in and taking a job somewhere on the offensive line. Good luck to Luke as he chases his dream, but also nothing but continued success in his mission work and getting his message out there.