Coming to America
One recent hot afternoon, Sioux Falls redshirt sophomore defensive back Alexandre Marquignon is battling one on one with offensive lineman Jase To’omalatai, trying to get to the quarterback. The battles, similar to a dozen others taking place up and down Bob Young Field, are intense, the players demonstrating to teammates the tenacity and toughness required in NCAA Division II college football.
The drills are likely close to second nature to Jase To’omalatai, who played two years at Pasadena College and prepped at Kahuku High School—a program that has produced more than a dozen NFL players.
Marquignon, on the other hand, was born and reared in France, where football means soccer. The 6-foot, 197-pounder came to the American game around the same time his Cougar teammates were learning to drive.
“Football is not really popular in France,” admitted Marquignon, 22. “Football is starting to grow in popularity, but soccer is the main sport.”
Marquignon, 22, found his way to Sioux Falls after a circuitous route that included lycée (high school) ball at Sainte-Norie and a stint with the French national team.
He stood out as a free safety for the Fighting Frogs at the 2011 IFAF Senior World Championship in Austria, recording an interception and six tackles in the team's first game despite playing with a broken hand. His work ethic caught the eye of USF associate head coach/defensive coordinator Robert Tucker, who served as the defensive coordinator for the French national team.
“Alex did a good job defensively for the French national team,” said Tucker. “I know a lot of coaches in France, and one thing just led to another and he became a USF Cougar.”
“Every guy who plays American football in France dreams of playing NCAA football but I wasn’t planning on it,” said Marquignon. “That changed when I met Coach Tuck at the World Cup he asked if I was interested in coming to USF to play football.”
He added, “I jumped at the opportunity.”
Marquignon enrolled at USF and redshirted last season. There was no language barrier as he had learned English in medium (middle school), but one of his first impressions was of American automobiles.
“Cars are way bigger here than in France,” he said.
There were many other adjustments, like getting used to American cuisine. Marquignon mentioned several similarities between the main entrees here and in his homeland, but noted one course that nobody cooks like the French.
“The desserts are way better in France,” he said.
You might be surprised to hear that living in Sioux Falls wasn’t much of an adjustment for a player affectionately known as “Frenchy.” In fact, Sioux Falls reminds him of home.
“Sioux Falls isn’t as big as Chicago or Los Angeles and there aren’t a lot of big buildings here,” said Marquignon. “I feel like I’m still home in France.”
Marquignon has impressed coaches with his speed and commitment to the team, but even he admits that there is still a lot to learn.
“I think that I am a good teammate, work hard to learn the playbook and try to be focused on whatever I’m doing on special teams or defense,” he said. “But, I’m still new to the game. I learned more about football my first semester here than I did playing four years of high school football in France.”
“I think that buying into the strength and condition program was huge for Alex,” said head coach Jed Stugart. “He’s eager to learn and has worked his way onto special teams, he’s only a play or two away from making the two-deep.”
“He’s a sponge— everything you say he remembers and writes down for future reference,” he said. “Alex hasn’t been playing football very long, so he just needs to get more reps learn to play with a little better pad level.”
“He’s very coachable and is going to be a really good player.”
An exercise science major that wants to work in sports, Marquignon knows that he wouldn’t be suiting up with the COO without the constant support of his mother, father and older sister.
“They supported me all the way when I got the offer to come here to play football,” he said. “Even though that means I only get to see them twice a year, they were pushing me to give this a try.”
In terms of goals, Marquignon just wants to get better and fully embrace the opportunities that he has at the University of Sioux Falls. He knows you won’t find many France natives on NCAA football rosters and wants to make the most of his collegiate career, both as a student and as an athlete.
“I just hope to be a good student and become a better football player."