By T. Scott Boatright
Dante Hall, a former NFL wide receiver and return specialist often called the “Human Joystick” and the “X-Factor,” might have said it best.
“Defensive and offensive linemen control the game and true sports fans know that,” is a well-known quote attributed to Hall.
If that’s true (and it is), call Lincoln Preparatory School’s “Man in the Middle,” — lineman Imani Marcel — the Panthers’ controller and spark plug that has ignited his team to a 3-1 start this season.
Panthers coach Glen Hall realizes that and had said this to say about Marcel following his team’s 33-6 win over rival Arcadia Friday night after not defeated the Hornets since 2015:
“We gave away the game ball tonight to Imani,” Hall said after his Panthers’ win over Arcadia. “He had about a bunch of stops in the backfield. He played well as usual on offense, but he was a total disruptor on defense. That dive play Arcadia is famous for? It didn’t go anywhere tonight. They got zero.
“He played nearly every snap. I’m telling you, this kid, he played his butt off. He was rolling kids up — he’d roll them up and dive on them. The official called a flag on him and said, ‘That wasn’t right.’ So he threw a flag because Imani works that hard and is that bigger and stronger than most of the other players out there.”
Officially, GSU coaches credited Marcel with five tackles in that game. But Hall knows it’s more than numbers that count toward a winning season in football on any level, and especially high school.
Hall also knows you can’t coach size, but says that Marcel has other intangibles that make him a force on the gridiron.
“He has a drive about him. He’s like the Energizer Bunny when he gets going, because he keeps going and going and going,” Hall said of the 6-4, 285-pound Marcel. “Not every player has that. You can’t really teach that. It has to come from inside the player, and Imani has that.”
Marcel understands what his coach was saying.
“I feel it’s all about the mindset you have,” Marcel said. “Not everyone has the same mindset. To me, it’s mental. If you know what type of player you are, you can take care of business. I feel as if I’m a go-getter. If Coach needs something, he can count on me to do it and I’ll get it done.”
Even after praising Marcel especially for his defensive play against Arcadia, Hall knows where the lineman belongs on the football field playing on the next level.
“I think he’s an offensive guard,” Hall said. “He’s a true offensive guard. He has great feet, great hand movement and a great first step. He’s gonna be a heckuva offensive for somebody on the next level.
“Of course, he’ll have to lose some weight … get in better shape and stay consistent doing that.
Marcel agreed that the offensive trenches is the place he plays best.
“Offense is my main thing because I feel I’m more dominant on that side of the ball,” Marcel said. “But I’ll do whatever it takes. Against Arcadia, I enjoyed playing defense. I like going after the football. But most of all, I like doing whatever I need to do to help my team win.
“It’s about doing the job and knowing it’s your duty to protect the quarterback and open holes for the runners. It’s not easy. But that’s what practice is for. I feel that if I put my mind to it, I can do it — in whatever I do.”
Marcel said that as far as playing style, he most tries to emulate Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Zach Martin, who has played in six Pro Bowls and been selected to six All-Pro teams.
“He just gets after it, and that’s what I like to do,” Marcel said of Martin. “It goes back to that mindset and refusing to let anyone get in your way and stop you.”
The big man doesn’t limit himself to the gridiron. He also is a productive basketball and baseball player for the Panthers.
“I love basketball,” Marcel said. “I was used a lot last year and was in the starting lineup.”
Marcel, who said “so far” he is being recruited by Grambling State, Louisiana-Monroe and “a bunch of JUCOs,” already has career goals mapped out.
“I’d love staying at home and playing for Grambling,” said Marcel, who has a 3.85 GPA at Lincoln Prep. “I want to go to college and learn about graphic design. I want to be a film editor.”
But right now he’s only focused on his high school studies and the gridiron.
“I want to help my team go on a deep playoff run,” Marcel said. “I know that no one expects it. That only makes me want it more. We’ve made a lot of progress every year I’ve played here. I just want to keep that going and surprise some people the rest of the season and after the playoffs begin.”
Photo: Tony Valentino
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