Mar’Keise Irving’s ‘Electrifying’ play powers Hillcrest to 4-1 start

Hillcrest junior running back Mar’Keise Irving has scholarship offers from 12 schools, including Illinois, Duke, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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Hillcrest junior running back Mar’Keise Irving, who also stars in basketball, would like to be a two-sport athlete in college. | Evan F. Moore/Sun-Times

When Hillcrest junior running back Mar’Keise Irving is ready to receive the kickoff, he does the “Sign of the Cross” and points to the sky.

He’s not only counting on his teammates to keep their blocking assignments, he’s seeking spiritual guidance from two deceased family members.

“I look up for my grandma and father,” Irving said. “This is how I kick off the game; ball out. My father died when I was 2 years old, so I didn't really know him. And my grandma died suddenly.

“My grandma meant everything to me. She got me out of trouble. And when I needed something, I could call her to get it.”

These days, Irving, through his play, has led the Hawks to a 4-1 start entering play Friday night.

He was also named a team captain.

Traditionally, the Hawks name four team captains before the season. Three are voted by the coaches; the fourth is voted on by the players.

Irving views his captaincy as an honor. He joined the Hawks last season after spending his freshman year at Morgan Park.

“It makes me feel good,” Irving said. “Last season, I was the new guy coming in, and I had big brothers [teammates he grew close with] I looked up to.

“[Hillcrest] has always been home for me. I watched my big brother Marcus Garrett [former Hillcrest athlete] come up through the program and do such great things.”

The vote for Irving’s captaincy, which was unanimous, wasn’t surprising to the Hawks’ coaching staff.

“The vote justified what we already knew: The players respected him [Mar’Keise],” Hawks coach Morgan Weaver said. “The players follow him. They go as he goes. He plays an important role on the team.”

And those leadership skills in school, along with his play on the field, has garnered Irving 12 scholarship offers.

Colleges from the Big Ten (Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin) and the ACC (Duke and Louisville) have made offers.


Hillcrest junior running back Mar’Keise Irving has garnered 12 scholarship offers. | Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

“My coach told me to have character on and off the field,” Irving said. “People are watching. We had a game against Richards. ... We were down and we came back and won the game. It showed I can pick guys up when needed.”

Irving, who also stars in basketball, envisions himself being a two-sport athlete in college. But if he has to choose one over the other, he’s going with football despite the injury risks.

“I love the game,” Irving said. “When you think about injuries, that’s when you’ll probably get one.”

Weaver, a Hillcrest alumnus who also played two sports (football and baseball) at the Country Club Hills high school, says Irving does everything that’s asked of him, calling his game “electrifying.”

“His [Mar’Keise] leadership is always improving,” Weaver said. “You can tell he’s progressing every game.

“His sophomore season in our homecoming game against Lemont, he went off. He scored all the touchdowns for us and he rushed for 303 yards. You can just see he was different; a special back.”

Irving loves the interest he’s getting from Division I colleges. But he knows things can change because he has another season ahead of him.

“It’s great, but I still have work to do,” Irving said. “The offers will be there. My coach told me to put in the work and my time will come. There’s been blessings ever since.”

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