By Jeff Duncan
Written for the LSWA
Inscribed vertically along the back of Marques Colston’s biceps are the words “Quiet” and “Storm,” an ode to the nickname he was given by a childhood friend.
Few nicknames have ever been more apt.
During his stellar 10-year playing career with the New Orleans Saints, Colston was a steady, stealthy force who let his play do his talking for him – on and off the field. In a league known for loquacious, attention-craving wide receivers, Colston was different.
He didn’t pout if the offense didn’t run through him. He didn’t demand the ball from his quarterback. And when he scored a touchdown, he didn’t dance or mug for the cameras. He simply tossed the football to the official.
“That just wasn’t me,” said Colston, who adopted the expression, “Two ears, one mouth” as a personal credo. “I don’t like attention.”
But attention was impossible to avoid because of Colston’s talent. In 10 seasons with the Saints, Colston set club records for career receptions (711), yards (9,759) and touchdowns (72). His 28 100-yard receiving games are tied for first in club history. All 72 of his touchdowns came on passes from Drew Brees, making the duo the sixth-most prolific combination in scoring pass plays in NFL history.
Now for Colston, even more attention. He is being inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Aug. 28 in Natchitoches, as the 17th player who spent all or most of his career with the Saints to be recognized – and the first from the Super Bowl XLIV champions.
For information on participation opportunities during the Aug. 26-28 Induction Celebration, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
The Brees-Colston combination was immediately productive. There was no question about Brees’ ability to perform in the NFL, and soon, the word was out on Colston and his value to the franchise.
“He had excellent hands,” Saints head coach Sean Payton. “The consistency. The professionalism. You knew exactly what you were going to get from him, every day, week in and week out.”
Colston’s work ethic and humble personality were forged from blue-collar roots.
He grew up a couple of miles from Susquehanna Township High School in Harrisburg, Pa., a town of about 50,000 people located near the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
His mother assisted patients on the overnight shift at a local nursing home. His father, James Rush Colston Jr., a former Army veteran who was honorably discharged in 1950, was an investigator for the Harrisburg Department of Community Affairs.
James Colston Jr. was a massive man. He died of a heart attack when Marques was 14 but before that he set an enduring example for Marques and his siblings as a young league coach and mentor. A former Canadian Football League player, at 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, James Colston towered over the kids he coached in youth leagues. The elder Colston served as a mentor to hundreds of troubled youth in the Harrisburg area as a little league coach and foster parent. The Colston house was a hub of activity in the neighborhood, where kids would gather to play pick-up basketball on the Colston’s full-court goals or swim in the above-ground pool.
“Sports was always my social outlet,” Colston said. “I never really went out. I never was one to party or anything like that. Sports were my release socially. I had foster brothers and sisters my whole life. I was raised in that kind of environment, and it’s kind of rubbed off on me.”
For whatever reason, Marques never filled out to his father’s dimensions. In fact, his lean, gangly build was the main reason major colleges avoided Colston coming out of high school. It didn’t help that he played in Coach Larry Nawa’s run-based offense at Susquehanna Township, either.
Despite the efforts of Nawa, who sent highlight tapes of him to 150 colleges, Colston received just one scholarship offer from a Division I-A school: Missouri. And that came after he’d already committed to play at Hofstra.
Hofstra was only a few hours away and featured an attractive passing attack that produced NFL wide receivers Wayne Chrebet and Charlie Adams and quarterback Giovannia Carmazzi.
Hailed as the Pride’s top recruit, Colston made an immediate impact. He averaged 23 yards per catch as a freshman and finished with 335 yards and three touchdowns on 14 grabs. He eventually blossomed into a 220-pound NFL prospect before a shoulder injury during his junior year sidelined him for the 2004 season. He came back to star as a senior, catching 70 passes for 975 yards and finishing his career as the school’s second all-time leading receivers with 182 receptions and 2,834 yards.
Colston enhanced his draft status by catching five passes for 82 yards in the East-West Shrine all-star game. He was one of just nine Division I-AA players invited to the game.
Still, there were concerns. Because of his 6-4, 220-pound frame and pedestrian 4.54 speed, some NFL teams worried that he might not have the speed beat NFL defensive backs in man-to-man coverage. Others thought he might be best suited to switch to tight end. This “tweener” status led most teams to discount him entirely.
The Saints selected Colston with a compensatory pick in the seventh, the 252nd player in a 255-man 2006 NFL Draft. The Saints’ seven-man draft class – their first under Payton — was headlined by Heisman Trophy winning running back Reggie Bush and included future franchise cornerstones Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Rob Ninkovich and Zach Strief.
Colston’s meager draft status and modest credentials ensured that he arrived with low expectations. His original rookie contract paid him $275,000.
His performance at his first Saints minicamp was so bad, he secretly wondered if he would make the team. He labored in the Louisiana humidity. His conditioning suffered, and his back locked up.
A conversation with his wide receivers coach at Hofstra, Jaime Elizondo, helped boost his mindset. Elizondo told Colston to stay confident and go to work. “I don’t think you know how good you are,” the coach told him.
Colston trained diligently over the summer in preparation for training camp. When he arrived at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., he was in the best shape of his life. Saints players immediately began to notice the wiry rookie with the sure hands. Colston, it seemed, caught everything in sight during those grueling practices, and he quickly earned the confidence of quarterback Drew Brees.
“Drew made me feel comfortable from Day One,” Colston said. “To have a quarterback like that take you under his wing and want to help you produce is definitely a confidence boost.”
During training camp, veteran receiver Dontè Stallworth compared Colston to a young Terrell Owens because of his size and athletic ability and instructed him to watch game film of Owens to learn how to use his skills.
“He was very humble and wanting to learn because of the situation with him being the third-to-last pick in the draft,” Stallworth said. “He struggled a little bit at first, but then at training camp, I just saw that guy blowing up.”
A few days later, the Saints traded Stallworth to the Philadelphia Eagles, validating their confidence in Colston, who would go on to catch 70 passes for 1,038 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns in his breakout rookie season.
“I had confidence I was going to be a good player in this league, but my rookie year, no, I can’t even lie to you: I walked into a great situation,” Colston said. “Playing with a quarterback like Drew and a coach like Sean Payton was a huge reason for my success.”
With his precise routes and sure hands, Colston developed into the go-to receiver in the Saints prolific offense, which annually ranked among the NFL’s leaders. He started 106 games and missed just 10 total because of injury in his 10 seasons. He led the Saints with seven catches for 83 yards in their 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
“As a seventh-round pick you’ve got maybe a 3 or 4 percent chance of becoming a starter at some point in your career, and even when you do make the team, your staying power is 3 1/2 years,” Colston said. “For me to be a Day One starter and stay 10 years and win a Super Bowl on top of that, none of that was supposed to happen.”
Since his playing days ended, Colston has become a successful entrepreneur and businessman. He is a part-owner of the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul and has invested in several other start-up companies across the nation.
“I was fortunate to have great advisors early in my career that played professionally themselves,” said Colston. “They stressed the importance of leveraging the platform of being a current NFL player while at the height of my earning potential. Once you’re no longer a player, those things diminish, and your risk tolerance lessens as your NFL income is nearing its end.”
Colston’s off-field success didn’t happen by accident, said Nawa, who calls Colston one of the two most talented players he’s ever coached, along with Jon Witman, who played at Penn State and with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Marques was a coach’s dream,” Nawa said. “He was extremely talented, but he never let it affect him. He was a team player, a quiet, yes-sir, no-sir type of kid. He worked hard at everything, even though he was doing more blocking than catching passes at that time. He was a leader. He worked for everything that he got.”