The whispers started to circulate through the Winnetonka High School hallways a few days before winter break in 2011.
Marquise Doherty is returning home.
The rumor eventually reached football coach Sterling Edwards, who, while bracing himself for a letdown, refused to show excitement.
Then concrete evidence arrived.
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After only one semester at Rockhurst High School, Doherty walked through the Winnetonka main entrance with a book bag on his shoulders.
“The first day of second semester, when he started walking the halls here, our football team and just about every other sport in the school immediately got a whole lot better,” Edwards said.
Hype followed Doherty to Winnetonka.
He brings even more into his senior season.
Doherty is the lead tailback, part-time quarterback, full-time free safety and kick returner for the Griffins. He scored four touchdowns Thursday in a 42-14 victory against Lee’s Summit North.
The Griffins believe they have a shot to win 10 games for the first time in school history. The belief is fueled, at least partially, by Doherty’s ability. Ranked as the fifth-best football prospect in Missouri, he received 14 Division I scholarship offers before narrowing those choices last week to Missouri, Kansas State, Oregon, Iowa and Louisville.
All five schools have offered him the chance to play baseball, too.
“I know it’s going to be a ton of work, but I want to play both if I can,” Doherty said. “I think me having a busy lifestyle now has prepared me for that. I know it’s a whole other thing at the Division I level, but I think I can handle it.”
His long-term outlook projects better on the football field. Why? Few can run like he does.
Doherty, listed at 6-1, 205, has been unofficially clocked in the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds. He was crowned the 55-meter national champion at the AAU Indoor Nationals in 2012.
“When people ask me for a ride home, I’ll tell them I’ll give them a ride home if they can beat me in a race to my car,” Doherty said with a smirk. “I save a lot of gas that way.”
Winnetonka has added an offensive package featuring Doherty as a quarterback. Edwards’ reasoning is simple: He wants the football in Doherty’s hands often — and he wants it there as quickly as possible after the snap.
Doherty scored two of his four touchdowns Thursday out of the formation. In a season-opening win against Oak Park last week, he scored on a rush, a reception and an interception return.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever coached a kid that is so completely in control of everything his body does,” Edwards said. “He’s obviously got the speed, but he can change directions and shift and make you miss as good as anyone. He’s strong. He’s explosive. He’s definitely got all the tools.”
They transfer to the baseball field, too.
A wide-ranging center fielder, Doherty was invited to Perfect Game’s 2014 National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in June, where he drew rave reviews for his line-drive swing, athletic build and speed in the outfield.
Doherty plans to skip basketball this season — where he has earned two varsity letters — to concentrate on his senior baseball season and try to increase his stock for the 2015 MLB Draft.
But that comes later.
Football comes first. For now. Doherty is the central figure for a Winnetonka program that isn’t exactly blessed with a decorated history. At least not yet. The Griffins have won only one conference championship since 1984.
That may change. Entering play Thursday, they were ranked No. 3 in the Missouri Class 5 poll.
“That’s the draw for me. That’s the exciting part,” Doherty said. “People around the area are starting to take Winnetonka seriously. When they see Winnetonka on the schedule, they know it’s not a team they can roll over on anymore. We know what we have here.”
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