Scouting eighth grade football is no science, but Bill McGregor knew it didn’t take a genius to tell MarShawn Lloyd was a no-brainer. The running back checked off the basics of speed and size. Even in middle school, he possessed exceptional ball skills, vision and work ethic.
The coach who turned Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic High into a national power knew Lloyd was outstanding already. What excited McGregor the most was not knowing exactly how good Lloyd could be in the future.
“It was just the tip of his iceberg,” McGregor said.
Lloyd is still only beginning to show his talents. The South Carolina transfer is making his case as No. 6 USC’s lead running back after 76 rushing yards and one touchdown and 59 receiving yards against Nevada last week. He led the Trojans (2-0) in rushing attempts in each of his first two games after USC plucked the Delaware native from the transfer portal. With College Football Playoff hopes, the Trojans needed a replacement for leading rusher Travis Dye.
The high expectations are nothing new for the former five-star prospect. Lloyd was the jewel of South Carolina’s 2020 recruiting class and hailed as the program’s highest-rated running back recruit since Marcus Lattimore. A torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered before his freshman season hampered his progress. It took two seasons for him to flash his true potential: a team-high 573 rushing yards last season despite playing just nine games. Finally a cross-country transfer helped him fully unlock his game.
“This year,” Lloyd said, “is the year that I feel like I’ve been able to showcase everything I can do.”
Citing USC coach Lincoln Riley’s high-powered offense that lets versatile running backs thrive as a reason he joined the Trojans, Lloyd quickly won his USC teammates over during the spring. His speed was the first thing that popped to receiver Mario Williams, whose eyes widened watching Lloyd break off long runs in practice.
“If you let him get to the second level,” Williams said, “it’s over.”
Lloyd combined physicality, speed and athleticism in his signature high school play that McGregor, who coached Lloyd as a senior at DeMatha, still marvels at four years later. Lloyd hurdled a defender, stiff-armed another would-be tackler to the ground, then outran two more defenders into the end zone. The 69-yard run was the No. 1 play on "SportsCenter."
When a photo of the hurdle rotates through McGregor’s virtual picture frame, he remains in awe of Lloyd soaring over the defender’s head, one leg stretched straight in front of his body with the other trailing behind.
“I mean, I’m human, but I know my legs can’t go that way,” said McGregor, who coached at DeMatha for 29 years before resigning in 2011 and returning in 2019. “How did he do that?”
After going viral with his hurdles — including a 2022 edition at South Carolina in which he scored on 25-yard touchdown after leaping over a Charlotte defender — most of Lloyd's social media attention is coming from his blocking. He flattened a San José State linebacker in pass protection during USC’s first game, then sprinted downfield against Nevada to deliver a key block that wiped out two defenders, allowing Tahj Washington to score untouched. Lloyd was seven yards behind Washington when the receiver caught the ball, and he was the first teammate to greet Washington in the end zone.
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) September 2, 2023
The mention of his blocks bring a wider smile to Lloyd’s face than even the thought of his 24-yard touchdown run against the Wolf Pack.
“As long as I can do what my teammates need me to do, I feel like that works out perfect,” Lloyd said.
The redshirt junior said his favorite part of scoring his first touchdown for the Trojans was seeing the reaction on his teammates’ faces in the photos after the game. He took a handoff from quarterback Caleb Williams, bounced the run around the left side behind two pulling offensive linemen and beat two defenders in a footrace to the end zone, showing the same track star speed that once turned him into a top high school recruit.
With expectations to help South Carolina immediately, Lloyd graduated from DeMatha early in time for spring football. He was primed to play a major role for the Gamecocks but tore his left ACL on the second day of preseason camp.
The injury can be catastrophic for running backs, especially those like Lloyd, who thrive on speed and elusiveness. While some may worry about a player returning to top form, McGregor never doubted. Whenever the coach checked on Lloyd during the recovery process, it always seemed the running back was returning from a physical therapy session or going to his next one.
“The great ones do everything they possibly can do to become great and then to stay great,” McGregor said, “and that’s MarShawn.”
Lloyd learned his work ethic from his mother. NaShawn Lloyd is his “everything,” he said. She taught him dedication and consistency, waking up every morning at 4:45 to drive the two hours from their home in Middletown, Del., to DeMatha in Hyattsville, Md.
Even though the prestigious program has produced NFL greats such as running back Brian Westbrook and 2020 Heisman finalist Chase Young, Lloyd would have preferred a local school. He is fiercely loyal to his home state, and now seeing more prospects from Delaware get shots at major schools — like childhood friend and South Carolina linebacker Debo Williams — feels like the continuation of his personal mission. But even the weight of a whole state feels light compared with the will of a determined mother.
“She knew what I wanted and she wasn’t going to let me take the easy way out and play somewhere locally, where in Delaware, you don’t really get recruited,” Lloyd said. “She wanted me to go somewhere where she knew where I can live out my dreams.”
Lloyd glanced around at the USC practice field under a sunny sky in early September and smiled.
“And here I am.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.