LOS ANGELES — With the help of an anonymous fan, Marion senior Deavon Margrum was able to finish the calendar year in Southern California playing his favorite sport.
Margrum received an invitation in his email to the Offense-Defense West Coast All-American Bowl, an event which provides five practices and an all-star game for standout football players undecided on a college.
The game was held at SoFi Stadium, the home of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, in Inglewood, California.
Getting that invitation requires a nomination, then an evaluation. Margrum still doesn't know who nominated him and doesn't mind if it remains a mystery forever.
"I would kind of like to know," he said. "We've asked a couple people. But other than that — nah, I don't want to know."
The day after Christmas, Margrum and his family boarded a flight from St. Louis to Orange County.
"It was my first plane ride and I was quite nervous," Margrum said. "I wasn't used to it. But it was enjoyable. Definitely not as bad as I thought it would be."
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Thankfully it was sunny when the Margrums landed because it was unusually rainy and cold for the rest of the trip.
"It rained every day after that," he said. "We expected it to be warm and it was in the 50s but it was freezing."
A flight delay in St. Louis caused Margrum to miss the first of his five practices. A problem at his hotel followed, but like he does at both linebacker and fullback, Margrum pushed through. He used the time to check in with the equipment managers and get his uniform.
Two practices followed the next two days. Coaches from colleges evaluated players and then put in plays based on what each position had available, then held a scrimmage with the second practice.
Those practices weren't at SoFi Stadium or anywhere glamorous — "We practiced in a park with like 12 soccer fields around us," Margrum said — but he made the most of the time in Irvine talking to his coaches.
"They all told us at the very beginning that there are so many players that we can't talk to all of you individually," Margrum said. "They said, 'Don't leave asking if you should've talked to someone.' So I talked to the head coach, the defensive coach, the offensive line coach. They all gave me their Twitters."
Margrum's family even made a quick jaunt to San Diego to visit relatives during the trip, but the main attraction came on Dec. 29 at SoFi Stadium.
"Just driving up to the stadium was amazing," Margrum said. "I'd only been to one other NFL stadium and that was when the Rams were still in St. Louis. It was almost breathtaking to see the stadium, especially when football is such a big part of my life."
After watching some of the other showcase games, Margrum had his turn while wearing a slick blue jersey with a Chargers lightning bolt going around it and through his No. 50.
"At first they gave me No. 28 and it was way too big," Margrum said. "I had to get a smaller one. And then part of my name got ripped. I didn't know it until someone yelled it out after the game."
Margrum had two carries at fullback in the game, both of them for "about 4 yards," he said, and also had a tackle and a deflected pass at linebacker.
But he also had some of his signature blocks — a feature that could wind up earning him a scholarship.
"I love blocking," Margrum said. "I think it's very underrated and you still get to hit somebody."
And most importantly to Margrum, his team won the game by a 22-8 score. It was what came to mind first when asked about his favorite memory from the game.
"We took the lead and then we were tied for two quarters," Margrum said. "We were matched up well but once we took the lead, we scored again and the other team gave up after that."
While they didn't get to dress in the NFL locker rooms, Margrum and his fellow players were able to at least visit the Rams' side.
"That part was really cool," Margrum said. "Seeing names like Cooper Kupp, Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham and just looking around."
Being on the same turf was nice, too.
"Getting to be on an NFL field was really, really cool," Margrum said. "Even though the stands weren't full, it still felt like a really big deal."
The experience also provided a big confidence boost for Margrum, who was surrounded by players from Texas, New York, Virginia and the Dominican Republic, just to name a few.
"I got to see a lot of talent from a lot of places," he said. "Living in Illinois, you're always curious about these other places that think the football is so much better so I wanted to see. I wouldn't say that we're too far behind. There are a lot of players from our (Marion) team that could've went out there and stood out."
Margrum now has the task of finding a home to play college football, but said he is no longer intimidated by the difference in size of college players after what he experienced.
That was already proven to those who watched Margrum play at Marion, especially his senior season when the Wildcats went to the Class 5A quarterfinals with Margrum scoring five touchdowns and recording 29 tackles as a team captain.
"Just a great young man and one of the most coachable and dedicated kids I have ever had," said Marion head coach Kerry Martin. "When I think of players I could count on to be there during the summer, the season and in crucial moments in big games, that's Deavon. Calm and cool in all high pressure situations."
With praise like that, there might've been more than one anonymous fan out there.