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Ledbetter tries again

Published: Friday, July 7 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Marquess Ledbetter plays against BYU in November 2004. Ledbetter emerged as a defensive leader in 2003, starting seven games for the Utes. By 2004, he had solidified himself as an NFL prospect.

Mitch Dumke

Unable to continue his football career at the University of Utah, former defensive end Marquess Ledbetter is trying to make a comeback.

Last year, he blew out his right quadriceps during preseason weight training. The injury ended his season. The senior was further disappointed when the NCAA denied him a medical redshirt, essentially ending his college football career.

To this day, Ledbetter feels the ruling was wrong. The senior was hoping to be preparing with Utah for the Utes' opening game at UCLA on Sept. 2.

"Without a shadow of doubt," Ledbetter said. "I believe I should have kept my eligibility."

While Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham isn't badmouthing the NCAA for its ruling, he isn't agreeing with it either.

"Whether you agree with the decision or not, it's something you just have to live with," he said. "I thought he deserved another year to play college football."

The former Ute defensive star was a nonqualifier in 2001 and redshirted in 2002.

The 6-foot-5-inch end was becoming a major force on the defensive line. In 2003, he emerged as a defensive leader, starting seven games in place of injured All-American candidate Jason Kaufusi. As a sophomore, Ledbetter led the team with five sacks and posted 30 tackles. He also helped the Utes defense dominate (4 tackles, 1 sack) Southern Mississippi in a 17-0 Liberty Bowl victory.

The following year, Ledbetter solidified himself as a potential NFL prospect when he helped the Utes bust the BCS with a 12-0 record and a 35-7 smashing of Pittsburgh at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. The defense also set a Fiesta Bowl record by sacking Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko nine times (two by Ledbetter).

But the real party was going to be the 2005 season. Rather than the big star he was planning to be however, Ledbetter's injury turned him into a faded memory for Utah fans and NFL teams.

"I'm a ghost right now," Ledbetter says. "Right now, I know the NFL won't take a chance on me."

He isn't giving up on a possible pro career but it's on hiatus for now. Ledbetter says he's prepared to show pro scouts his best, but in due time.

"I know what I can do — I'm not going to rush it," he said. "Until then, I'll be coming soon. I'll be coming soon."

The defensive lineman isn't picky either. He plans to give calls to the CFL, NFL Europe and Arena Football teams. He's also made note of former teammate Marty Johnson. His success with NFL Europe and the Berlin Thunder has Ledbetter thinking he's got a chance. Johnson compiled 602 yards and four touchdowns in NFL Europe play. Good enough to catch the eye of the Denver Broncos, who signed Johnson as a free agent on June 1.

Ledbetter's immediate goal is to get through school. The senior intends to graduate from Utah and pursue football again. Whittingham believes the Mississippi native has what it takes to be a pro. If not for the injury, it's conceivable that Ledbetter would have been a third- or fourth-round pick in last April's draft. His coach sees a future opportunity for him.

"He's gotten bigger, faster and stronger every year since he's been here," Whittingham said. "I think he's got a legitimate shot."


E-mail: tpeterson@desnews.com