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NFA defense follows its leader in Marquez

One might be surprised to learn that Xavier Marquez is a leader.

Marquez is a senior at Norwich Free Academy who comes across as so chill. Jason Bakoulis, the Wildcats’ head football coach, describes him as a “quiet guy”.

“People think I’m so serious,” Marquez chuckled. “I’m a fun person to be around. I’m always joking and laughing during games.”

Marquez is a third-year safety for NFA football, the quarterback of the defense. During the winter, he plays point guard for the basketball team and runs the show.

“It’s mostly a mindset,” Marquez said about being in leadership roles. “In basketball, when I play the best player on the team like (Woodstock Academy graduate) Chase Anderson or (East Lyme graduate) Dev Ostrowski. I have one main goal, and that’s not to let them score.

“That’s my job and I have to make sure I do it, and I have to keep everyone else up. That one player builds everyone up.’

Marquez and the Wildcats play at top-seeded and unbeaten Newtown in the CIAC Class LL quarterfinals on Tuesday night, weather permitting (6:30).

Safety was completely new to Marquez when he got to NFA. He played running back and linebacker for both Norwich and Griswold youth football and even a little offensive line, which sounds ridiculous today given he’s 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds.

“I was a pretty stocky kid back then,” Marquez laughed. “Then I grew a few inches. I still had a stocky, husky body, but I was able to still make weight to play running back at least.”

Marquez found himself playing safety his sophomore year when starter Caleb Parker got hurt during an Oct. 14, 2017 game at fourth-ranked West Haven.

“That game was definitely very nerve-wracking,” Marquez said. “I was playing linebacker on the edge. I was like a rover playing up on the offensive line because we played one single high safety that game.

“I was nervous to even make a tackle or make a play. It was just a label (West Haven’s ranking) that I was scared off. Playing number four West Haven had me nervous.”

Marquez has been a starting safety ever since then.

“He’s a great athlete, but his thing is he’s got a nose for the ball,” Bakoulis said. “The big key in the way we play is we need the safety to come down and help against the run and also be able to cover (against the pass) and come over the top. He’s our quarterback on defense because he’s checking all of our coverages.”

Marquez said, “I have to make sure people are right when they do wrong. I like it because I can see the whole field and adjust to anything.”

Marquez thought he’d be doing double-duty this season as the Wildcats needed a new lead running back. Instead, he mostly played defense and has 31 carries for 188 yards and four touchdowns in six games.

“I just like to be on the field as much as I can,” Marquez said. “I thought it was my time to step up and show what I could do offensively.’

Marquez never griped about it, though.

“He never complained and never had any excuses,” Bakoulis said.

Marquez said, “As long as we put up points and do our job on defense, that’s all that matters.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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