Ask Marvin Wilson about being the best, and his answer can be processed in multiple ways.
On one side of the coin, confidence flows at a river's pace within Wilson, a 5-star defensive tackle from the greater Houston area. He's the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle and the No. 3 overall player in the 2017 class for a reason.
When you work as hard as Wilson does, according to those who see him on a daily basis, every accolade and elite-level ranking is deserved.
"I want to make sure no one outworks me," Wilson said. "Nobody."
On the other side of the coin, the same athlete who calls himself "the No. 1" also is the guy who enjoys being both the hunter and the hunted. As the hunted, he's well aware of the numerous defensive tackles trying to unseat him at the top spot.
As the hunter, he knows there are two players ranked ahead of him. He also chases the success of the defensive lineman class before him—a 2016 group that produced six 5-star prospects, including arguably the best defensive lineman recruiting has seen in years in Rashan Gary, who's now at Michigan.
And because of that, he works. Almost beyond diligently and rigorously.
His work ethic showed throughout the spring and summer, and he earned an invitation to The Opening last month in Beaverton, Oregon. He bullied his way to winning defensive line MVP honors at the event.
"I take pride in that," Wilson said of his work ethic. "I know I've got people trying to be better than me. That's only pushing me to be better. I want to keep solidifying I'm the No. 1 player.
"Being hunted keeps me on my toes. But now I'm the hunter, too, so it makes me even more hungry. I have to work twice as hard to get to where I want to be."
When asked to describe himself in one word, Wilson chose "leader." It's no secret that Wilson is one of those athletes who demands a lot from his teammates and expects even more from himself.
But when it was time to give a full description of himself, Wilson only needed a few words and followed with a smile.
"Real-life goon," he said.
Those three words have launched an unexpected social media phenomenon to where he not only encapsulates "goon status" with every play but also embraces the concept of being a "goon"—a dominant enforcer on the field, someone who puts immediate fear in his opponent.
That attitude has helped him not only earn a top-five national ranking but also an offer list that includes powerhouse programs from coast to coast. Wilson has 26 reported offers, including LSU, Florida State, Alabama and in-state rivals Texas and Texas A&M.
For Wilson, it's all about being in love with football. Syble Ned, Wilson's mother, remembers when he first fell in love.
"It was his second year in high school," Ned said. "I could really tell a difference in him by talking to him then. Basketball used to be his passion. His freshman year, he was good, but we really saw a big difference in him his sophomore year.
"It's like he turned into a beast then."
Wilson has grown into a 6'4", 329-pound truck. He is a gentle giant off the field, a wrecking machine on it. And what's scarier is that as good as he is already, he feels he's yet to scratch the surface of reaching his full potential.
"Basically, he's been taught to be humble," Ned said. "I know he talks a lot and has a lot of fun when he's playing, but being humble is something I've always instilled with him. He knows he can't move up without being humble. That's why he works so hard."
Private school state of mind
Doug Smith has trained Wilson since he was in the ninth grade. He originally saw raw talent, a lot of strength and deceptive athleticism for a big guy. Before polishing Wilson, Smith said he had to get him to understand that he was raw.
"The thing is, he's always been hungry, and he's a leader. That's a great combination to have," Smith said. "He never stops wanting to get better. He never thinks he's there. I have to tell him sometimes to relax, and he'll always say there's something he's got to do.
"I remember him texting me at 5 in the morning saying, 'It's time to go. I'm ready.'"
And when Wilson says he's ready, he doesn't just mean football. Basketball is still a love of his, and he's active with AAU competition. It helps with his endurance and his footwork.
There's always something to motivate Wilson to take things one step higher. A constant motivator for him involves where he plays high school ball.
Episcopal High School is a private school located in Bellaire, Texas, just outside of Houston. Episcopal plays in the Southwest Preparatory Conference, which isn't viewed, competitively, to many in the same light as Texas' most popular high school athletic association, the University Interscholastic League.
"Everywhere I go, people say, 'You go to a private school. You don't play anybody,'" Wilson said. "When I get to go on a big stage and show I can be better than you no matter where I go to school, I take advantage."
It only adds to Wilson's point when his teammate—and the guy he trains with—is seen in a similar light. Walker Little is a 4-star offensive tackle who recently skyrocketed up 247Sports' composite rankings after an exceptional showing at The Opening. Little is ranked No. 36 overall and listed as the nation's No. 8 offensive tackle in the 2017 class.
Both were out to prove that private school athletes can be dominant, too, at The Opening regional competition in Houston this past April.
"It's all about representing the school," Little said following the Houston regional. "We feel like we can do well and win a lot of games because we have some decent talent. I think this shows it."
Todd Huber, director of football for Student Sports and a former offensive lineman at Cal, quickly noticed what Wilson brought to the table. Wilson shined as a sophomore competing at The Opening's New Orleans regional.
Huber defined Wilson as a "disruptor," and his ability to stay active off the line of scrimmage en route to the backfield will make him a household name at the college football level.
"What we've all seen in person is that he has the same traits that have made Rashan Gary, Kahlil McKenzie and Chad Thomas The Opening Finals DL MVPs and big-time players," Huber said. "He has a desire to always compete and prove himself.
"I spent a chunk of time pulling Marvin out of one-on-ones so other kids would get reps. He's not satisfied with the accolades."
Working to become next-level
With everything going for Wilson, the next question is: Where will he end up?
Wilson has his choice of where he wants to play college football, and according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, LSU and Texas are potential landing spots. Florida State and Alabama also are schools to watch, as he told Bleacher Report last month that he's very interested in what the Seminoles and Crimson Tide have to offer.
"I'm going and seeing where I can be comfortable," he said. "In my mind, if you can't be comfortable wherever you go, you won't be able to develop. If it's far away and I feel comfortable, that's where I'll go."
As a commitment date inches closer for Wilson, he's reiterated that he will take his time with his recruitment and will refuse to make a rushed or pressured decision. Wilson wants to play in the system that best fits him, and he wants to attend a school that offers a solid broadcast journalism program.
Look for a final decision to come on national signing day. Until then, Wilson plans on continuing to weigh every option with his family by his side.
"We've talked to some coaches, and we're getting ready for some visits," his mother said. "With me, I'm trying to focus on the academic part of things, making sure he has everything in place to go to the next level. To me, it's more important for him to be on his academics than football, but ultimately, I want him to be happy with his decision. I want him to do it for him and nobody else."
Smith said he's excited about the Marvin Wilson of the future, athletically and academically. Away from the football field, Wilson is charismatic, charming and goal-oriented to where he'll easily be a fan favorite at whatever he does.
The same can be said of Wilson the menacing defensive tackle.
"It all starts with his mom," Smith said. "She does a great job with him. He's a respectable kid. The goal is to get better every day, not just as a football player but as a person, too. You're going to be whatever you are outside of football longer than who you'll be in football."
Wilson added: "Just being where I'm at, I'll be honest, it's one of the greatest feelings ever. I'm going to keep shooting to be No. 1 and keep working to be a better person. It's all about being better for the next level."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles