Former Notre Dame DL Marquis Dickerson mentors Irish commits Jayson, Justin Ademilola

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Marquis Dickerson found his future in Brandon Wimbush’s past.

But first, a word about Dickerson’s past: the 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive lineman made a name for himself in Marianna, Ark., a place Dickerson describes as “one of those declining cities in the middle of nowhere.” He nabbed a preferred walk-on spot at Notre Dame, choosing a private university in northern Indiana over the home-state heavyweight, Arkansas.

“I took a visit one weekend and fell in love, and the rest is history,” Dickerson said.

From 2013 to 2016, Dickerson contributed on Notre Dame’s scout team, simultaneously working towards a degree in management consulting from the Mendoza College of Business. He earned that degree last spring and used it to secure a job as a sales consultant for E&J Gallo Winery in Jersey City, N.J.

There was only one problem:

He also wanted to coach.

“I’ve always been a guy that was looked at as a mentor,” Dickerson said. “A lot of my teammates at ND, a lot of the young guys, they’d all call me Uncle Mark. If they needed a ride somewhere, if they needed to pick up something or move something, I was always somebody they could count on.

“I really started to reflect on how guys would always come to me. Even after practice, guys would say, ‘Hey, let’s work on this technique. Can you show me how to do this?’”

So there he was: in possession of one job, in pursuit of another. After a class last spring, Dickerson ran into Wimbush — Notre Dame’s soon-to-be starting quarterback and a proud New Jersey native — and explained his situation.

“Could you point me in the direction of a good school to coach at?” Dickerson asked.

“He was from Jersey City, and I’m moving to Jersey City,” Dickerson explained. “He got me in contact with Rich Hansen, the head coach (at St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Wimbush’s alma mater).”

“I wasn’t looking for another coach,” Hansen said. “We didn’t necessarily have a spot, but he and I sat down, and I felt Marquis had a lot to bring to the table. It’s very, very seldom that you get a young coach that’s trying to get into the business and has experience at a place like Notre Dame.

“I just thought he’d be a good role model for our players.”

At the time, Dickerson had no idea who those players would be. He didn’t know, for example, that two of St. Peter’s Prep’s senior defensive linemen — four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola and three-star defensive end Justin Ademilola — were already verbally committed to Notre Dame.

He had no way of knowing that Shayne Simon — a 6-foot-3, 210-pound consensus four-star rover — would later join them.

Essentially, Dickerson left Notre Dame, and arrived at Notre Dame.

“It definitely is (satisfying) … especially since I can get tickets for the next four years,” Dickerson said with a laugh. “It’s crazy, how things fell into place. To have three Notre Dame commits, it’s unreal.”

For a little more than a month, Dickerson has been working as a consultant during the day, then transitioning to a role as one of St. Peter’s Prep’s defensive line coaches in the late afternoon and evening. He mentors the group alongside Ike Holmes, a former starting nose guard for Rutgers.

Who better to prepare the Ademilola twins for Notre Dame?

“My favorite quote from (former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco … he used to say, ‘Just get .0000001 percent better,’ ” Dickerson recalled. “I always thought that was a good philosophy. He’s not asking us to get worse. He’s not saying to stay the same. Just get a little bit better at something. That’s what I try to preach to them as well.”

The good news, for Dickerson, is that he already has plenty of talent to work with.

“They have so much raw ability,” Dickerson said of the Ademilola twins. “They definitely need some polishing, but they’re 17-18 years old, going into their senior year. What kid that age doesn’t need polishing?

“The speed and size they play at and the ability and willingness to get better … that stood out. Even from day one, they stood out a little bit more than some of the other guys that I’ve seen at the high school level. They look the part. Their floor is solid contributors, and their ceiling is as great as they want to be.”

It’s Dickerson’s job to get them there, and that means continuing to push them to improve … even if it’s only by .0000001 percent.

“I really don’t want them to get comfortable,” Dickerson said. “It’s so easy with their talent level. It’s hard not to fall into that place of complacency, like, ‘OK, I’m good enough. I’m already great at this level.’

“I constantly want them to challenge each other not to take a single rep off going through a drill, make sure they finish everything. It’s more of a mental thing at this point. Once they get to the next level, I know they want to play. I know they want to be contributors.”

Thus far, Uncle Mark has been a consistent contributor — both for E&J Gallo Winery and St. Peter’s Prep.

“I can’t wait for Marquis to get a couple years under his belt and get really comfortable with the coaching grind,” Hansen said. “The grind as a player is one thing, but the coaching grind is something else. We were coming off the field the other day and he was exasperated and I said to him, ‘You didn’t think it was this hard, did you?’ He was like, ‘No, I really didn’t.’

“But he’s fit in well. I’m really happy with what he’s done up to this point.”

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C.J. Sanders (3) and Marquis Dickerson (95) during Notre Dame football practice on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN