Ali Marpet rides unexpected surge from Division III to legitimate prospect

There's an old PC in the basement of Ali Marpet's boyhood home.

It isn't connected to the Internet and it barely runs, tucked away in a room adjoining the one where Marpet will watch the upcoming NFL draft with friends and family.

But years ago, that computer helped launch Marpet's dreams of playing pro football. He created hundreds of players while investing countless hours of his teenage years in the Madden video game franchise. Instead of conceiving himself digitally at a skill position, he'd max out the height and weight to build offensive tackles for his favorite team, the New York Giants.

"Creating yourself as a lineman, who do you know does that?" said Luca Cobucci, a good friend and high school teammate of Marpet. "You create a quarterback or a running back or a receiver. But a lineman?"

Marpet now has a chance to appear on every copy of Madden 16. ESPN.com ranks the 6-foot-4, 307-pounder as the No. 4 guard and No. 84 overall prospect in this year's draft. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.98 seconds) among offensive linemen at the scouting combine in February. Hailing from Hobart College, a Division III school in upstate New York that last produced an NFL player in 1937, his athletic journey is an unlikely one.

Marpet quit football after his freshman year at Hastings High School, 20 miles northeast of New York City, to concentrate on basketball. He returned as a junior but didn't consider himself a football player first and foremost until his senior year. When he graduated from Hastings, weighing 240 pounds, and until the spring before his senior year in college, the plan was to pursue a degree in economics and a job in finance.

"He was still looking for an internship in econ," said Marpet's father, Bill, a noted fashion videographer. "There's a very good network of ex-football guys at Hobart on Wall Street, and they hire their brothers and stuff. "We were hoping to use football to help him get a job that way. That was it."

As Hobart's offensive line coach in 2011, Kevin DeWall liked Marpet's frame and footwork. Although Marpet's technique needed work, DeWall thought he could mold the 260-pound freshman into a pretty good Division III lineman.

"When we first got him, I didn't think he was a scholarship guy at that point," said DeWall, who left Hobart after the 2014 season to become head coach at Endicott College. "He was in the area of local Division I [schools], so like Fordham and Holy Cross kind of mentioned him. If he was bigger as a junior [in high school], I could see that. It would take a pretty special coach to see that ahead of time." Then Marpet started bulking up.

Most days, he ate a breakfast of a vegetable omelet, two bagels, a banana, yogurt with granola and two glasses of water. Other than Tuesday trips to Wegman's to order a Danny's Favorite -- a 14-inch sub with Genoa salami, capicola and spicy ham on it -- he maintained a strict diet.

Marpet consumed 7,000 to 9,000 calories daily, and his clothing size jumped from XL to XXXL. During his family's annual winter vacation to Jamaica, he set his alarm every two hours to eat and scavenged leftovers from their 10- to 12-person dinner party.

By sophomore year, he was 280 pounds. By his junior year, he reached 290.

Scouts showed up the spring before his senior year to do measurements. He broke five seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he weighed 300 pounds for the first time.

"Ali fit those boxes they checked," DeWall said. "He was the right height, the right athleticism. All of a sudden they found he's more than checking the box, he's pretty darned good. If they popped in the video and it didn't match, they would have moved on to the next offensive lineman."

Marpet didn't allow a sack as a senior last season at Hobart and was named a Division III All-American. The possibility of being invited to an NFL training camp or playing in the CFL suddenly seemed real. However, it wasn't until after the season that his stock sharply began to rise. Marpet earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl and held his own during the week of practice against Division I counterparts. He bolstered his stock further at the combine.

"At that point, I was like, yeah, this is definitely going to happen," Marpet said. "At that point, I had numbers to back up what I knew I could do."

Wall Street would have to wait.

Kids started peering through the glass window into room W267 at Hastings Middle School one day last month. First, one kid looked. A crowd soon formed outside Joe Vaccaro's science classroom. Everyone wanted a glimpse at Marpet, who sat inside while visiting his high school coach. Marpet might have signed 50 autographs that day. The students asked him to join them for football at recess, but he didn't have time.

"They were grabbing graph paper," Vaccaro said, "to get an autograph from him."

It was a long time removed from when Marpet visited that room as a tall, skinny eighth-grader. He hadn't played football for Vaccaro yet. He hadn't grown into his body, and his NFL dreams were Madden characters.

"Signing autographs is a little bit weird," Marpet said. "It all happened so quick. In the fall, yeah, I was a good football player, but it's not like everyone knows who I am. They see a big guy and say he's on the football team. But in the spring when I got back, I'm pretty sure everybody on campus knew."

Back in high school, the basement of the Marpet house was the main hangout for Ali and his friends, so it was easy for him to decide where to watch the draft -- right there on the couch his parents bought after he crushed the old one under his prodigious weight. After the whirlwind of the past year -- the Senior Bowl, combine and team visits -- Marpet will be in the game, in more ways than one.

"You better believe when I'm in Madden, I'll be buying that," he said.