"Run with that sack, call me Boobie," raps Quavo on "Bad and Boujee," his trio Migos' Billboard Hot 100 chart topper (and the inspiration for some of 2016's best memes). But, as his high school classmates know, the rapper actually has more in common with Friday Night Lights quarterback Mike Winchell. Back when he was best known as Quavious Marshall, the now-26-year-old emcee was the starting quarterback for Berkmar High School, which he attended with bandmate Offset (then Kiari Kendrell Cephus).
Fans recently got a glimpse of his gridiron prowess when a behind-the-scenes video from a Champs Sports spot showing Quavo throwing a football through a basketball hoop a few dozen yards away went viral. To his high school teammate, though, his trick shot came as no surprise.
"I'm almost certain he did that on the first try," says Troy Davis, who now plays defensive end for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. "He would do that at practice, too—throwing the ball in the trash can, those kinds of things. He always had a strong arm. If he'd stuck with it, he might have gone somewhere."
His former coach, John Thompson, isn't quite as optimistic about Marshall's prospects—but the rapper was promising enough to go from backup to starter during his tenure. "If you looked at him back then, he had some height on him [Marshall is 6'1"], but he didn't have a lot of meat on his bones [the Gwinnett Daily Post called him "spindly"]," Thompson tells B/R. "But he was a competitor, and a good football player—even led the county in passing yards [and set game records for completions] that year. I don't think people expected that from him."
The Berkmar Patriots went 1-9 during that 2009 season, but neither Thompson nor Davis attributes the losing record to Marshall's on-field ability. "He was very smart on the field, understood the offense and how to read the defense," says Thompson, who'd switched to a spread offense in Quavo's first year as a starter.
"Even if he got out of the pocket, he would always keep his eyes downfield," Davis adds. "I think he liked throwing the deep ball. When he got rushed, we'd be, like, 'Run for the first down!' and he'd end up throwing it for 40 yards."
The only win came during homecoming, when Marshall went 19-of-25 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. "He always looked to get better, to win," Davis says. "That was just his nature—he didn't like losing."
At practice, Marshall was "a great teammate, always joking, having a good time," Davis says.
"He was a joy to coach; he made it fun," Thompson adds. "The thing they all had to learn was that for me, to be on time you have to be five minutes early. Quavious would always walk in exactly five minutes early and smile that little grin he has: 'Coach, I'm here!' I think sometimes he did it just to aggravate me, but he was always there. He was a prankster."
Music was a priority though, even then. The trio that would become Migos were already working together, making music that included a song for the school that they performed at a pep rally. "When people ask how they just flow off of each other like they do ... they've been doing music together since before I knew them," Davis says.
"You'd always hear him singing in the locker room," Thompson recalls. "One time, I was talking to him about his grades and everything, and he said, 'Coach, I got you with the grades, but I just want to get out of here and make music.' He was adamant: He was going to be successful in the music industry."
Thompson didn't realize just how successful he was, though, until he got a phone call from Rolling Stone for a 2015 feature on the trio. "The gentleman said he wanted to interview me about Quavo, and I was like, 'Who's Quavo?,'" Thompson says. "I only knew him as Quavious Marshall."
Davis was less surprised by Migos' commercial takeover. "It's just like with any athlete—when you see someone who actually keeps putting in the work, you know what's coming."
Today, the next generation of Gwinnett County students are awed by their bad and boujee forbearers. "I have old teammates who teach at Berkmar, and the kids always ask them, 'Did you go to school when Migos were here? What were they like?'" Davis says. "It's a big thing—we've had a few people from the school go somewhere athletically, but to see someone do music on the scale they are is special."
"I hear a lot of Quavious' music in the locker room," says Thompson, who now coaches at nearby Gainesville High School. "I've had several of my players say, 'Coach, can you get his autograph? Coach, can you get him to come talk to us?' I'm like, 'He's out touring; leave him alone!'"
Quavo isn't the only current star Thompson knew back in the day—Gainesville is top NFL prospect Deshaun Watson's alma mater, and though Thompson didn't coach him personally, he's known him since he was "a little boy." "I hope he doesn't end up in Cleveland—just kidding," Thompson says. "Wherever he goes they'll win; that's just the type of person he is."
As for Migos, Thompson isn't a devotee, but he says he'll continue to pull for his former QB. "He'll keep being successful as long as he keeps being himself," Thompson says.
"If you talk to him, tell him I'm proud of him."