Alabama Football WR Marquis Maze: A-Maze-Ing Grace

Jonathan Fravel@jfravel135Senior Analyst IOctober 14, 2011

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Wide receiver Marquis Maze #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs for a first down against North Texas in the first quarter on September 17, 2011 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Butch Dill/Getty Images

The Crimson Tide installed their game plan on Thursday, practicing in shells, within the confines of the Hank Crisp indoor facility. Despite the veil of secrecy, one thing is for sure—that game plan will include hopeful contributions from the amazing Marquis Maze.

Listed at 5'10" and 180 lbs—and we all know what "listed" implies—as a total package, he is the shortest and lightest receiver on the Alabama roster (Nathan McCallister is the lightest, listed at 165 lbs and Ronald James is the shortest at 5'8"). But thus far, he certainly packs the most punch for the offense wide receiving corps and special teams returners.

Marquis Maze attended high school in the little hamlet of Tarrant, Alabama, where he excelled as an athlete on the gridiron. He was the most versatile player on his team, serving as tailback, quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner. In 2007, he was listed at a 3-star player by scout.com and rivals.com, rated as the 18th-best player in the state and 52nd-best athlete in the country.

As a senior high school football player, Maze scored 15 touchdowns and had just over 1,200 all-purpose yards, competing in only six games due to injury. As a junior, he had six interceptions and 26 tackles playing defensive back, and on offense, he recorded 1,109 all-purpose yards scoring 19 touchdowns, three of those on kickoff returns.

When he arrived on the Alabama campus, he was already known for his speed. But there were others on the team who thought they were faster, and challenged him on a regular basis. His greatest challenges came in races against Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson. Good days or bad, he accepted the challenge from his senior counterparts. He never lost a race to either one. He was without question, the fastest player on the team.

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Maze exploded onto the public scene of Alabama football scene in the 2008 season opener against Clemson University. As a redshirt freshman, he was one of three rookies to play in the game, along with Julio Jones and Dont'a Hightower. Alabama fans got a glimpse of his potential for greatness with a leaping catch that he made, pinning the ball between his shoulder pad and helmet—Prothro-like. The catch was erased due to a false-start penalty.

GAINESVILLE, FL -  OCTOBER 1:  Wide receiver Marquis Maze #4  of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes upfield against the Florida Gators October 1, 2011 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

His freshman statistics included 11 catches for 137 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per catch. He played in all 14 games during the 2008 season, including the SECCG and Sugar Bowl. His most memorable recorded catch came in the 36-0 blowout of the Auburn Tiders—excuse me, Tigers—hauling in a fade thrown from Greg McElroy for the last score of the game.

That pitch and catch set the tone for what Alabama fans were about to behold during the following year from both the young backup quarterback and the talented, but not well-known receiver. In the championship year of 2009, Maze had 11 starts while playing in all 14 games. Still overshadowed by the much bigger and highly touted Julio Jones, Maze not only got the attention of his quarterback, he began to grow on the fanbase, as well.

Time after time, Maze would impose himself in game situations and make a game-changing play. The first came in the season opener, against the Virginia Tech Hokies. While eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was the focal point of the game, Maze made a down-field catch for 48 yards that set up an Alabama touchdown, sparking the offense that had been lackluster up to that explosive play.

Against Arkansas, his stutter, stop-and-go route went for 80 yards and a score while the game was close, opening a lead that would only grow while the Alabama defense closed in on Ryan Mallett, shutting down the Arkansas offense and obliterating any hope of a comeback by the Arkansas fans.

And though the 78-yard receiver screen to Julio Jones was the most memorable play against LSU, Maze had a career-high six catches for 88 yards. His contribution was immense in the championship run and his player profile grew from fairly inconspicuous to game-changer.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Marquis Maze #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide makes a touchdown catch over defensive back Neiko Thorpe #15 of the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 29, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama defeate
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Other teams took notice, and had to game-plan to not only defend against Julio, but to prevent the big play from that pesky little No. 4 on the other side of the field. Despite their efforts to prevent big plays, Maze had a career-best 96 yards on five completions in the SEC championship game against Florida. Against Texas, playing for the national championship, Maze hauled in one pass for four yards. He finished the year with 523 yards, 31 catches and two touchdowns.

He led all receivers with an average of 16.9 yards per catch. Nineteen of his 31 receptions went for first downs, keeping drives alive during the championship run. His energy and explosiveness frequently sparks the offense to perform at a higher level. His competitive nature and resilience pushed one of Alabama's greatest all-time receivers, Julio Jones, to be great.

In 2010, Maze continued to provide explosive plays for the Alabama offense. He played in all 13 games, recording 38 receptions for 557 yards and three touchdowns. He had 27 receptions for first downs, and 31 plays in which he carried the ball for 15 yards or more. He saw his first action in the Wildcat formation against Penn State, and was named SEC co-special teams player of the week against Ole Miss, returning six punts for 125 yards.

Against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Maze was named offensive player of the week by the Alabama coaching staff. Maze recorded 166 total yards, which included a 45-yard touchdown pass, two kick returns for 44 yards and a punt return for 23 yards. In the season finale, versus Michigan State, Marquis had a team-best 77 yards on four receptions and one touchdown.

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23:  Marquis Maze #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball during the SEC game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

During the offseason, Marquis Maze emerged as a leader, not only as a wide receiver, but for the entire offense, defense and special teams. He emerged as a team leader and a player the coaches respect and admire. He has never been involved in an off-the-field incident and has kept his nose to the grind as a student. He is the prototype in character for the type of student athlete that head coach Nick Saban seeks when sorting throughout the country for talent to place on his football team.

That leadership is showing on the field as well. In the first half of the 2012 season, Maze has graced the team with his presence on the field in each game, leading Alabama in receptions, receiving yards and punt returns.

Because of the consistent play by the Alabama defense, forcing three-and-out situations, Maze leads the SEC with 24 punt returns and averages 13.4 yards per return. His timely 83-yard punt return for touchdown against Arkansas sparked an explosion of points by the Alabama team that could not be matched by the Razorbacks.

His 31 receptions for 335 yards leads all receivers by a wide margin. In fact, no other receiver has more than 12 catches and the closest to him is running back Trent Richardson. Quarterback AJ McCarron, until the Vanderbilt game, depended on Maze almost exclusively for pass production. The next three receivers, Smelley, Hanks and M. Williams, have combined to total 31 receptions and have accumulated 347 as a unit.

Against Vanderbilt, senior Brad Smelley scored his first receiving touchdown on a short pass from McCarron, near the goal line. DeAndrew White scored two touchdowns in the Vanderbilt game. Prior to the Vanderbilt game, no other receiver had what would be considered a downfield reception (although many explosive plays have resulted from catches of 10 yards or fewer).

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Marquis Maze #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In Week 1, against Kent State, Maze accumulated 253 all-purpose yards, leading all contributors in the game. Against Penn State, Maze had two receptions in the second drive of the first quarter that eventually led to the M. Williams touchdown. His longest explosive play of the game was a 44-yard punt return to the UA 49-yard line. It was a punt that would have pinned the young quarterback and the Tide inside the 5-yard line had it been a fair catch.

His lowest output in receiving yards has been against North Texas, only three catches for 26 yards yet his all-purpose yardage was 108 yards, aided by 56 yards in punt returns, the longest being for 28 yards. Against Arkansas, Maze logged 165 all-purpose yards and in competition with Florida, Maze had 159 all-purpose, behind only Trent Richardson who smoked the Gators with 208 yards.

Coach Nick Saban recently commented on Maze when a reporter tried to compare him to Julio Jones with regard to his contribution to the team. Saban corrected the reporter, stating, "he is a completely different kind of player. We will try to utilize his skills in terms of what he can do and we will continue to try and do that."

Saban added, "He's got a little bit of running back in him, he's got really good running skills, but he is a good receiver. He has emerged as one of our very productive players on offense, this year."

Marquis Maze is an extremely tough competitor, despite his small package. Yet he is one of the most humble personalities on the team. He is a confident and intelligent football player who will do everything that he is capable of managing in order to get this program another SEC championship and national title.

And what a pleasure it is to watch him play. Roll Tide, Marquis Maze. Your pluck and grit has contributed to the personality and character of this 2011 title-contending team. Finish well and finish strong. And whatever the outcome, it is clear that you will finish with amazing grace and style.

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