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Former York standout catching on at USC

Staring at fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard-line, backup South Carolina quarterback Aramis Hillary fired into the end zone, thinking he spied an open receiver.

Twenty-four yards later, he helped tackle the man he never saw who intercepted and returned the pass.

Hillary never saw him, and neither did Zac Brindise, who was intercepted by the same guy in the same scrimmage. Another quarterback, Andrew Clifford, was likewise picked off in the next scrimmage.

After three interceptions and nearly a fourth in two spring scrimmages, former York Comprehensive High School star Marty Markett isn't being overlooked any more.

"Like coach told me, coach told all of us, it's a chance for us young guys to get out here and show coaches what we got," Markett said. "I just try to make the best out of every play."

Markett, the former speedster for the Cougars' football and track and field teams, has surfaced at USC during spring practice, playing on special teams and as a backup cornerback.

Installed as a practice player while several of USC's defensive starters take the spring off to recover from surgeries, Markett has proven he's much, much more than a warm body.

"Markett is a tough little guy, a fast guy," coach Steve Spurrier said. "He may be the fastest guy on the team. He's got a wonderful chance to earn a scholarship."

Which would be his second from USC.

"That would be kind of cool," Markett said.

It's been an unconventional trip back to the football field for Markett, who was good enough at York to earn a USC scholarship. It just wasn't for football.

"My scholarship was for track," he said. "I couldn't afford school, of course, so I had to take the track scholarship."

A burner who won the 2007 Class AAAA state championship in the 400 meters, plus running the first leg on the 4x100 relay champion team and coming in third in the 100, Markett was offered and took a full scholarship by USC track coach Curtis Frye.

In 2008, he ran on the Gamecocks' 4x100 relay team and earned All-American honors, but he missed the contact and the camaraderie of the football field.

"Track, I had fun, I just didn't like it that much," Markett said. "Not as much as football."

He was giving up a full ride to college for the unheralded life of being a walk-on football player. Guaranteed of nothing but getting your head kicked in five days a week, that was the life he chose.

Bring it on.

"I knew if I worked hard and do what I had to do, I'd probably have a good chance," he said.

Still, he needed a little help.

"He called me a couple of times, told me to get him some numbers for him," said Spencer Lanning, the Gamecocks' place-kicker. "I got him in contact with (walk-on director Jamie) Speronis and some of the recruiting coordinators."

Lanning and Markett, each Rock Hill natives who attended York, had played together as Cougars and Markett knew of Lanning's success. Like Markett was hoping to do, Lanning had gone to USC as a walk-on and worked his way up, earning a scholarship and a starting spot.

Lanning gave Markett some numbers and then talked him up to the coaching staff, saying he knew a guy who could help.

"The more talent you can have to come in here, the more you can offer, the better shot you're going to have," Lanning said. "He could catch punts, do kickoff return -- he's fast as lightning. That helped him out tremendously."

Markett reported to USC camp in 2009, along with another former USC track and field star. But while Bryce Sherman became a fan favorite and eventually the Gamecocks' primary kick returner, Markett sat on the bench with a broken left forearm.

It's still nagging him, but not so much that he can't play. The commitment Markett made has kept him going, as is the lasting memory of what USC did to Clemson to finish the regular season.

The Gamecocks destroyed their archrival 34-17 in November and former York County prep standouts were a massive reason why. Lanning, Tori Gurley, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman each contributed big plays to propel only USC's third home win over the Tigers since 1987.

Markett wanted so badly to be a part of it, yet couldn't. He hit the field in the spring determined to show he could be part of the next one. Not that his performance has been any surprise to those that know him.

"We used to run a lot of reverses and a lot of quick-draw stuff like we do with Sherm now, and I think he's doing some of that now," Lanning said.

"When he did it, he scored on, literally, about half of the ones he did. He would just get out in front and there was nothing nobody could do about it. He gets out in the open, he's gone."

"Marty ran track for us early," said Steve Boyd, former football coach and current athletic director at York. "He was just such a hard worker. He was always in the weight room and did everything we asked him to do."

Lanning, Boyd and Spurrier have each talked about Markett's shyness, his quiet demeanor off the field that vanishes as soon as he buckles his chinstrap.

Lanning has had to avoid Markett trying to plow him under the 40-yard-line on a couple of punt-block attempts, while Boyd remembered how silent Markett used to be on the field, until the ball was snapped.

"We ran a lot of the short-motion with him, and we beat Greenwood in the playoffs (in 2005) by using him," Boyd said. "He was one of the reasons we won that game. Just not a very loud person until he got on the field."

Boyd talked with Markett when Markett came back for a game at York and was surprised to find out he was giving up track for a chance at playing football. But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense.

"He's got such a good work ethic," Boyd said. "I have no doubt he's going to be successful in anything he tries."

His first real action at USC seems to back up Boyd's claim. Markett is challenging for time in the secondary and seems a lock to be somewhere on the field for special teams.

Yet, he doesn't seem surprised by his unusual ride to the gridiron - on the contrary, he sounded like it was meant to be.

"Coming out of high school, football was my passion," Markett said. "Me and Bryce, we're best friends now. We came out here together, walked on together. I saw what he could do and I wanted to do it, too.

"I talked to Mr. Speronis and coach Spurrier, they gave me the chance to come out here. I walked on and did what I had to do."