By Matt Citak
It is not often that a Division III college football player gets invited to the Senior Bowl. In fact, it has only happened twice in the history of the game, with the second time being in 2015 when Hobart College offensive lineman Ali Marpet received an invitation. Marpet was a three-time, first-team All-Liberty League lineman, as well as a first-team DIII All-American.
After a phenomenal performance in the Senior Bowl in which he was named the “biggest riser” by Sports Illustrated, Marpet followed it up by wowing scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was identified as one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the 2015 NFL Draft, finishing with top scores in numerous categories. Marpet wound up getting drafted in the second round, 61st overall, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, making him the highest-drafted pick in the history of NCAA Division III football.
Two and a half years later, the young offensive lineman is still grateful for each day he gets playing the sport he loves.
“Coming from a Division III school makes me appreciate everyday in the league,” Marpet said in an exclusive interview with CBS Local. “Not many of my teammates or opponents were able to get to this level. Having the opportunity to do this as a job will always make me work hard.”
Marpet began his rookie season as Tampa Bay’s right guard, starting in all 13 games he appeared in. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 12th-best run-blocking guard that season, despite the fact that he missed three games with an ankle injury. Starting in all 16 games last season, Marpet took a big step up in his development, earning the 13th-highest overall grade among guards from PFF. His run-blocking grade of 84.4 aligned him with the NFL’s elite guards, as he finished with the fifth-highest ranking. Marpet was also one of the most consistent offensive linemen in the league last year, playing in the second-highest snap total of all guards.
Earlier in the offseason, Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter announced that Marpet would serve as the team’s starting center in 2017. While the 24-year-old has only played right guard in the NFL, he has previous experience playing all over the offensive line, including at center during the Senior Bowl. Although the transition has been a process, Marpet has faith in the coaching staff’s decision.
“The transition to center has been solid. I was a tackle in college. Then moved to right guard with the Bucs,” Marpet said. “There were talks of me moving to center ever since the Bucs drafted me. I have confidence in the coaching staff that this is a good move for the team.”
Looking at his play over the last two seasons, there is no reason to believe Marpet won’t be able to handle the move to center. Koetter has said the mindset behind the move was to get the five best offensive linemen on the field at once, and having Marpet at center allows just that.
Marpet does not seem to be too worried about the move either. When asked what his expectations were for himself this season, the 6-foot-4 lineman focused on the success of the Buccaneers.
“Expectations are to build on our 9-7 record last season,” said the Hastings, New York-native. “I want to help this team improve on last year and make the playoffs. And I’m looking forward to the transition to the center of the line.”
As a 2015 draft pick of the Bucs, Marpet entered the league alongside Tampa Bay’s quarterback and young leader Jameis Winston, who was the first overall selection in the same draft. With Marpet now moving to center, the two will be working closer than ever. In fact, it was reported earlier this summer that Winston was helping Marpet adjust to some of the mental demands associated with playing center.
When asked about sharing the field with such a great talent, Marpet had nothing but absolute praise for the third-year quarterback.
“Jameis is special- a gifted athlete, leader, and teammate,” Marpet said. “One of the hardest working guys I’ve come across. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to play with the guy and block for him.”
The Buccaneers have the interesting honor of appearing on this season of HBO’s hit series Hard Knocks, which premiered last Tuesday night. While many agreed that last season, featuring the Los Angeles Rams, was incredibly boring, the same cannot be said about this year. The Buccaneers, with the lively Winston, the outspoken DeSean Jackson, and the hilarious Gerald McCoy, are sure to put on quite a show for viewers.
“NFL fans can expect a great season of Hard Knocks- featuring a young and hungry team with a talented coaching staff and leadership,” said Marpet. “I’m excited for the fans to have a glimpse of the personalities in this locker room- guys I have the pleasure of working with every day.”
Look out for Marpet, Winston, and the rest of the Buccaneers on HBO’s Hard Knocks every Tuesday for the next three weeks leading up to the NFL season.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.