Sports

Ali Marpet’s journey to Super Bowl 2021 is ‘unbelievably surreal’

This is a story about a boy named Ali, a quiet kid from Hastings-on-Hudson whose modest high school football career was barely noticed by college recruiters …

… who went to tiny Hobart College and became the highest draft pick in NFL history to come out of Division III …

… who’s now in the third year of a five-year, $54 million contract that paid him $27 million in guaranteed money …

… and who will be blocking for Tom Brady in Super Bowl 2021 on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium — his first-ever Super Bowl but Brady’s record 10th.

If you’re thinking that this story about Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet is too out there to be true, you wouldn’t be alone. Even Marpet, his family and former coaches have a difficult time believing it.

But there’s even more to the story about the 27-year-old in his sixth year with Tampa Bay — which traded up to draft him in the second round (61st overall) — and his unconventional and unlikely journey to the NFL and now a Super Bowl.

Life, so often, is molded by the paths you take.

“There were a lot of things along the way that had to line up almost perfectly for me to end up where I am,’’ Marpet told The Post by phone after a practice last week. “There wasn’t one moment that made the difference. It was a collection of moments. Me going to Hobart instead of trying to try to walk on at a D-I AA school or maybe going to another D-III school that didn’t take football as seriously [as Hobart]. There were so many ways this could have played out.’’

Of course, there were. There always are.

Ali Marpet
Ali Marpet in October.
Getty Images

Unconventional Beginnings

As all these things do, it began with Marpet’s upbringing — in this case in the quiet, artsy Westchester enclave of Hastings-on-Hudson, which rests about 20 miles up the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Marpet, by all family accounts (including his own) unquestionably was the quietest of the four kids Bill Marpet and Joy Rose (they’re now divorced) raised. Ali Marpet didn’t realize it at the time, but his path was being paved and shaped by the passion his parents had for their respective crafts in life.

Bill Marpet carved out a living as a top producer and Emmy-winning director and cinematographer in the New York fashion industry, shooting some of the most famous runway models in the world.

Joy Rose founded and played in a rock band named “Housewives on Prozac,” which had an impressive 10-year run beginning in the late-’90s, as well as being the founder of the “Mamapalooza” music and arts festival and more recently the Museum of Motherhood, which opened in Manhattan and now is in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“The experience for me, growing up in a household with people that have stuff they’re passionate about every day and find meaning behind whatever that is was important for me,’’ Ali said.

There’s irony in the fact Ali is in the position he’s in, playing in the biggest sporting event in America, because he’s the last person in his family who embraces the spotlight.

“He doesn’t care about this story at all,’’ Bill Marpet told The Post. “I’ll tell you right now, he won’t even read it. He doesn’t read any of the stuff written about him. He just does what he does.’’

“He doesn’t care about this story at all… He just does what he does.”

Bill Marpet

Ali’s sister Zena, the youngest of the four siblings but only a year-and-a-half younger than Ali, is an emergency room nurse in California. She laughed over the phone at the irony.

“That’s what’s so funny about all this, because out of all us he’s the one who’s the least interested in all this attention,’’ Zena said. “It least aligns with his personality.’’

Both Zena and Ali conceded that sometimes seeing their mom’s presence in a rock-and-roll band was viewed as cool when they were kids and sometimes the sight of her showing up at school with her pink hair was cringeworthy.

“The joke that’s been going back and forth around the family right now is, ‘Hey, have you heard mom’s playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl?’ ’’ Joy Rose told The Post. “One of the amazing things about our family is that each of us is extraordinarily different. They all come from a rock ’n’ roll mama with pink hair and a fashion-guy father. We’re all connected, but we’re all different.”

Ali’s the football star. Zena’s on the front lines helping the battle against COVID-19. Blaze, the second-oldest, is getting his Ph.D in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy from Northwestern after earning his masters degree in religion at the University of Chicago. And Brody, the eldest, is working in the Tampa area helping out Ali.

From Hobart to the NFL

Bill Marpet could never imagine his youngest of three sons turning out to be a 6-foot-3, 307-pound NFL behemoth.

“When he was 8 years old, his hair was really, really long and we would go out to restaurants and the waitress would say, ‘What does she want?’ ’’ he recalled. “So, he didn’t have all that testosterone early on at all. I think everything came to him late physically. He was a late-bloomer.’’

Joy Rose recalled Ali as “kind of the quiet one, the smallest one’’ of the kids.

“He seemed always kind of content in a lot of ways,’’ she said. “I’m sure he would have been along for the ride for whatever the universe presented. But, due to his hard work and devotion, clear-mindedness and his pursuit of excellence, he was set up perfectly for this kind of success once his body grew into it and the opportunity presented itself.’’

Opportunity came at Hobart, where more critical shaping of that path on his journey would unwittingly take place.

 Ali Marpet blocks for the Hobart College Statesmen in 2014.
Ali Marpet blocks for the Hobart College Statesmen in 2014.
KEVIN COLTON/Hobart and William

“I was just hoping he would able to make the team, be able to date cute girls and get a really good education at a school that the football helped him get into,’’ Bill Marpet said. “If someone told me when he got out of high school that this would be happening, I’d have looked at them like they came from Mars.’’

Mike Cragg was the Hobart head coach and saw a raw, untapped talent in Ali, but he saw that talent as a defensive lineman. Ali played on both lines in high school.

“When he arrived, being a football and basketball player, he had the frame but didn’t have the weight at that time,’’ Cragg recalled. “He was a great athlete. When we were recruiting him, I said, ‘With that athletic ability, I want this boy on defense.’ ’’

This is where Kevin DeWall — then the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator and now the head coach — stepped in and made a suggestion to Cragg that would change Ali Marpet’s life, though no one knew it at the time.

“Coach DeWall is the one that talked me into putting Ali on the O-line,’’ Cragg said.

“We knew he was something special early on,’’ DeWall said. “He was recruited more as a defensive lineman. He would have been a really great defensive lineman at our level, but I saw something watching him play basketball with his balance and feet and I loved that transition and how that would play out as an offensive lineman.

“So, I went to coach Cragg and said, ‘I think Ali can be a really good O-lineman.’ Believe me, I didn’t know it was going to be at this level.’’

DeWall recalled Marpet’s junior year as the time he and Cragg first thought Marpet would have a chance to play for pay on Sundays.

 Susan Liberati-Marpet, Bill, Brian Thompson (close family friend), Ali, Zena, Blaze, Joy Rose (Ali’s mother), Brody on draft night.
Susan Liberati-Marpet, Bill, Brian Thompson (close family friend), Ali, Zena, Blaze, Joy Rose (Ali’s mother), Brody on draft night.

Marpet was voted by conference coaches as the Offensive Player of the Year his senior year, an award that almost always goes to quarterbacks, receivers, running backs or defensive players with gaudy statistics.

“You never see that for an O-lineman, but he was just that good and that imposing,’’ DeWall said.

“I’ve never seen a person so dedicated, put on so much weight and strength and still keep all his athletic ability,’’ Cragg said. “Typically, when a real good athlete comes into Division III and he’s able to be a starter in his freshman year, by his senior year he’s already plateaued. He’s no longer getting better.

“In Ali’s case, oh my God, every year he just got better and better and was so dominant it was crazy. To go from 245 pounds to 320 pounds, coming in running a 4.9 and going out running a 4.9, that’s unreal.’’

Super Bowl LV

Cragg said he corresponds with Marpet “every other day’’ by text or phone call, talking about upcoming opponents or how he’s feeling. Super Bowl Sunday will be an emotional day for him.

“I can’t wait for that game to get around here,’’ Cragg said. “He’s living my dream and I want to follow him as closely as I possibly can. He’s made everyone so proud — his family, Hastings, Hobart, all of Division III — and nobody could ask for a better representative.

“It is freaking crazy that all this is coming true. When Brady went there, I told him, ‘You better, right now, start working on your pass blocking and get your game together, because if he gets sacked he’s going to chew your ass off really good. Tom doesn’t like getting hit.’ ’’

Ali Marpet celebrates with Tom Brady after the Buccaneers won the NFC Championship game.
Ali Marpet celebrates with Tom Brady after the Buccaneers won the NFC Championship game.
AP

In 849 snaps this season, Marpet has not allowed a single sack.

And here he is, from tiny Hobart College (2,271 students) in remote Geneva, N.Y., to making $10 million a year, blocking for Brady, trying to win his first Super Bowl and a seventh for Brady.

“Exactly the script we sold him on during the recruiting process,’’ DeWall mused.

“Most people don’t know where Hobart is,’’ Ali said. “It’s a gem of a school. It just happens to be a little bit smaller. But all the time people would ask, ‘Hobart? How the heck did you end up there?’ ’’

Ali recalled when he was at the NFL Scouting Combine one of the things that resonated most.

“We don’t care where you come from,’’ he was told repeatedly by NFL teams. “We care about whether you can contribute.’’

He’s lived up to that end of the bargain.

“I’m kind of astonished at what he’s been able to accomplish,’’ Bill Marpet said.

“I feel really grateful that, by all the odds, I probably shouldn’t be here,’’ Marpet said. “That makes the experience that much sweeter and that much better, because it’s so rare to be in this position.’’

Zena Marpet described her brother’s journey as “unbelievably surreal.’’

“Him getting drafted was one thing,’’ she said. “We couldn’t believe that. Then we were winning this season and we kept winning and we were all looking at each other saying, ‘Oh my God, do we have a shot here? Are we going to the Super Bowl? Is this happening?’ ’’

Oh, it’s happening.

nypost.com

New York Post

The New York Post is a daily tabloid newspaper in New York City. The Post also operates NYPost.com, the celebrity gossip site PageSix.com and the entertainment site Decider.com.

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