Saskatchewan·Q&A

A star is reborn: Marcus Thigpen's unexpected return to the Roughriders

Marcus Thigpen is the superstar that got away. Luckily for Roughriders fans, he came back.

Thigpen became a star in Hamilton and the NFL after being released by the Riders in 2010

Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Marcus Thigpen works his way up field during first half CFL action against the Montreal Alouettes at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor)

Marcus Thigpen is the superstar that got away. Luckily for Saskatchewan Roughriders fans, he eventually came back.

Thigpen was first signed by the Riders in October 2009, a year after he graduated from Indiana University. He was released just a few months later after the 2010 training camp.

Many football fans and experts would call it a bad decision in retrospect. In fact, most of them would probably say it was terrible, awful, sickening or worse.

The Detroit product was quickly scooped up by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. On the very first play of the season, Thigpen returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. He ended up scoring five different ways that season, the first player in CFL history to do so.

Thigpen went on to play in the NFL with multiple teams. After he was released by the Buffalo Bills in December 2015, Thigpen's football career appeared to be over. But it wasn't.

CBC's Peter Mills spoke to Thigpen to find out how he made his way back to Saskatchewan. 

Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Marcus Thigpen shakes a tackle from Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Marcus Sayles during first half CFL football action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor)

You've been back in Saskatchewan just over a year. How does it feel?

It feels good. Just to think last year I was thinking about hanging it up and just being done with football period.

Being able to reach out to KG [Kevin Glenn] and get this opportunity from coach Jones and John Murphy [Assistant Vice President, Football Operations and Player Personnel], it's been a blessing. 

How seriously did you consider quitting when you weren't playing in 2016 and the early part of 2017?

I was pretty much done. I was going through my divorce with my ex-wife and my mind wasn't in it. I had lost the passion for the game and I just wanted to be home and work and just be with my kids and just really get my mind right because it's mental, it's 90 per cent mental.

So my mind wasn't there at all. I was just praying on it and I finally decided this is really what I want to do and I felt like I still have a lot left in the tank and so I might as well do it while I still can. That's the best decision I've made.

Indiana University’s Marcus Thigpen (2) runs into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against Murray State in an NCAA college football game at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Matt Kryger)

We've heard this story about [former Riders quarterback] Kevin Glenn ultimately being your agent. Was he the one who really pulled the strings to get you back here?

Yes, he is. I actually saw one of his videos on Instagram, I think he had just thrown for over 50,000 yards and I just saw the way the camaraderie was in the locker room and I'm like, "You know what? I miss that." 

So I wrote him on Instagram to see if he could get me a shot to come back out here, get a workout or whatever. He's like "You know what? We actually need a returner," because CJ [Christion Jones] had went down.

Sure enough I talked to coach Jones and he got me down here within two days. The rest was history.

Have you ever heard of a player on a team is actively recruiting somebody?

[Laughs] No I haven't, which is pretty cool. I know KG has been around for a while and he's got a lot of respect around the league so if I could talk to anybody I know it was him. He's a CFLPA rep as well so I know he's a good guy to contact and stay in touch with.

Miami Dolphins' Marcus Thigpen returns a kick for a touchdown in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Charles Trainor Jr. )

I want to read some of the teams that you've played for.  Experience is good, but in nine years you've played in Philadelphia, Denver, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, Miami, New England, Miami again, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Oakland, Buffalo again, and then back here in Saskatchewan. What is that like as a dad to be travelling all across North America to play in different places?

It was extremely, extremely hard. I mean, I went through phases when we were homeschooling the kids just so I could see them more.

The hardest part was really just the travelling and the uncertainty of the game. You just never know where you're going to be but at the same time, I was still following my heart and I really wanted to play the game of football.

So it's definitely tough, It's just hard. But like I said I just wanted to keep fighting because I know what I can do, I just needed opportunities and sometimes you just gotta keep going.

What's the positive of all that moving? A lot of people don't get to see that much of the world and meet that many people.

Right. That's definitely the positive aspect of it. You definitely get to meet a lot of great people. All the fan bases that I've been a part of have been great, especially in Buffalo. Just to experience it and meet new players, you know, everybody is so cool.

Just building those relationships, just networking. I looked at it as a networking opportunity as well, just meeting the different coaches and GMs and people part of the staff. It's definitely a great experience.

Buffalo Bills running back Marcus Thigpen (11) runs past Green Bay Packers' Sean Richardson (28) on a punt return for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Tell me about your kids.

My oldest is 14, she's in high school now so I definitely feel like I'm a little older [laughs], I got me a high schooler. And then I have a nine, an eight, and a three year old who will be four next month. They're my life. They're the reason why I keep going, why I keep pushing hard. 

I just want to provide a better life for them financially and just let them know that you can always follow your dreams no matter what you've been through because I've been told "no" so many times. I've been cut so many times.

So to just keep pushing and keep pursuing my dream and still doing what I'm doing right now is definitely letting them know that anything is possible.

What's it like having a daughter in high school now and not being there to make sure that everything is going well?

It's tough. So I make sure I text her, I call her, I FaceTime her everyday just to see how things are going. So far, so good.

Growing up in Detroit it's kind of tough. It's a rough city, but she's at one of the better high schools. She's a smart girl. She knows several different languages, 4.0 student so she does really well.

I'm not too concerned about her but I know the boys are going to be a factor here coming up so I gotta make sure her mind is right [laughs].

Hamilton Tiger Cats running back Marcus Thigpen lock hands with Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Tyron Brackenridge during the first half CFL football action at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday, October 29, 2011 in Regina. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)

Your journey back to Saskatchewan is kind of like John Chick's. You were both kind of the superstars that got away, the ones that went to the NFL and people in Saskatchewan watched you perform so well there. Did you ever think that you would come back?

I didn't to be honest with you. Once I got done with the NFL and when I was going through my divorce I didn't think about it anymore. I never saw myself back here, especially in Saskatchewan after they let me go the first time. 

Have you had fans come up to you personally and say 'I can't believe you're back and I'm so happy you are'?

Yeah, definitely. They reach out to me on social media all the time and they say those exact words. 

Hamilton Ti-Cats Marcus Thigpen sports a smile on the bench as they play the Calgary Stampeders in CFL action in Moncton, N.B. on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011. Thigpen scored three touchdowns in Hamilton's 55-36 victory. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Speaking of returns, you had quite the return last week. Can you believe that was the first time a Rider had a regular season kick return touchdown in 13 years?

I had no idea it was that long. But I'm glad to be on that side of it. Like I said, I still have a lot left in the tank and I definitely want to get some more done now that I've taken that job full-time since CJ is down. So I'm taking that to heart and I definitely want to continue to give our team great field position.

Average Skill, Phenomenal Will. Tell me about that.

It's a book I did with Eric Thomas, who is a motivational speaker. It's just an autobiography about my life and some of the questions that you just asked about my journey

I'm actually going to re-brand and get it republished again so the next name is going to be Resist and Persist. The new book is going to be coming out soon.

Marcus Thigpen scored the game winning touchdown with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter to give the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 18-13 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Thursday night at Mosaic Stadium. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor)

For people who don't get to read the book, what is something you want people to know about your story?

I don't want to give is away, but I had some very traumatic things that happened to me earlier on in my life. I was going down the wrong path and [there] was one instance that really got me back on track.

Something my mom had told me two weeks prior to this instance — because I don't want to give it away — that happened that really changed my life and got me back on the right track and allowed me to transfer from the school that I was at and go to a new one.

Things got back to where they were supposed to be and I was on the right track from that point going forward.

Rider rapid-fire

Thigpen also took part in a more lighthearted interview, where he was asked about going vegan, hot dogs, and the Detroit music scene. Listen to that interview below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Roughriders (7-5) take on the Toronto Argonauts (3-8) in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 22. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. CST.


MORE ROUGHRIDERS FEATURES:

About the Author

Peter Mills is an associate producer at CBC Saskatchewan and the host of the Meet The Riders podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TweeterMillsCBC. Do you have a story idea? Email peter.mills@cbc.ca.

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