His father told him years ago to be different, to rise above by not blending in as another face in the crowd.
Be different as an athlete. Be different as a student, as a young man, as a leader. Be better by being different. Words to live by from proud pop Melvin Fulcher.
So Marcus Fulcher did those things and then suddenly one day came home with purple hair. He dyed it as a teenager in Fresno, where he excelled at Bullard High School as a record-setting ball carrier. Now a senior three-year letterman with FCS-ranked No. 4 Sacramento State, Fulcher still sports the purple ’do that sparkles as much as his smile and outlook on life. But the purple look is twofold in meaning.
“I attended football camps, and at 5-(foot)-8, nobody noticed me,” Fulcher said. “My dad said I needed to be different, so I started with my hair, and it took off. People noticed that purple and that I could play. But I really do purple for Lupus awareness. My sister, my mom and my grandmother all had Lupus. I do this for them.”
Melvin Fulcher added: “It started with youth football. I told Marcus to be different in how you behave, to wear what you want. Don’t worry about being like everyone else. Then one day he comes home with dyed hair. Being different? No, he said, ‘That’s for mom and Lupus awareness.’ That’s my son. Never had a problem with him. It’s not easy raising teenagers, but he was a joy.”
Marcus Fulcher stands as the very definition of different as a smaller guy in a big-man’s sport, a man making monstrous plays for a Hornets team that takes its 3-0 record and 22-game regular-season winning streak to Idaho on Saturday in a Big Sky Conference opener.
Fulcher is proof that in the wide-open game of college football, running backs are indeed a valued commodity. The powerfully built 5-8, 215-pound Fulcher, with his thick thighs and arms built to stiff arm, is a combination of leg-driving power and breakaway burst. He has good hands as a receiver, and he revels in the opportunity to pass block because it helps the team — and because it’s a chance to unleash on an oncoming defender who wants to unleash on his quarterback.
Fulcher’s complete-game skills were on display Saturday at Stanford Stadium. He rushed 13 times for 52 yards, and on the game’s turning play, Fulcher made a play out of a near stop. He started off as a blocker as Sacramento State was driving for the winning touchdown, then he became a receiver, and then the hero.
Fulcher saw that quarterback Kaiden Bennett was about to be tackled, his knee nearly touching the ground, and he made himself a bail-out receiving target. Bennett flipped the ball to Fulcher, who turned it into a sizzling 49-yard touchdown sprint down his team’s sideline with 1:32 remaining. Sacramento State prevailed 30-23, producing as great a win as the Hornets have experienced in the 69-year history of the program.
And dad? Melvin Fulcher was there in the stadium seats, standing, cheering, hugging, along with scores of family members. Father and son are tight. They spent many hours under the hot sun working out in Fresno parks when Marcus was growing up.
Melvin Fulcher saw stardom in his son before anyone else. As an assistant coach at Bullard High, he watched his boy rush for 4,337 career yards and a school-record 49 touchdowns.
He also watched his son’s Bullard teammates place stickers on their helmets for big plays and wondered what Marcus was doing with his stickers. They didn’t go on his helmet. The good son gave them to players who hardly played, to let them know their practice efforts were important.
“I had no idea. He did it because he cared about them,” Melvin Fulcher. “That was Marcus being different.”
The father has watched his son emerge as the lead back for the Hornets after helping the team to championship success in previous seasons. And he anticipated a big moment on The Farm.
“Dad told me before the game that I was going to be the reason why we would win that game,” Marcus Fulcher said. “I have that text. I love that text. I chip blocked on the play and got out because I saw KB was under duress. I went to an open spot, and he got the ball to me, and I just took off. It was surreal. I was like, ‘Just go!’ I felt like there was a ticking time bomb in my head: Just go!’”
Bennett said Fulcher saved the night, crediting his teammate for having “the juice.”
“A great play by a great player,” Bennett said.
Said proud pop: “It never gets old watching Marcus make big plays. Every time I see him score, I’m smiling ear to ear. I try to conceal it, to keep it cool, but that play at Stanford? I was jumping on my seat as if it were his first touchdown. He’s never been a rah-rah guy, but he was really excited with that play.”
Melvin Fulcher works for the Fresno Department of Transportation. He drives a bus, but he will stop everything to talk about his son.
“That Stanford touchdown, I’ve shown that to all of my co-workers like a father showing off his first born,” Melvin Fulcher said with a laugh. “I have 300 co-workers, and as soon as they say ‘football’, I’m right there with, ‘Well, look at this!’”
Marcus Fulcher was the first home visit for newly hired Hornets coaches Troy Taylor and Andy Thompson prior to the 2019 season. Taylor is now in his first season heading the Stanford program with Thompson now leading the Hornets.
“I remember that visit in Fresno,” Thompson said. “We really liked Marcus. He liked us enough that he came here for two visits. It’s worked out great. He’s versatile. He can do it all. He’s a complete back, and NFL scouts have been coming by asking about him. He has a bright future. He’s worked so hard for this, and he’s a true leader.”
‘For my family and my team’
Marcus Fulcher said he got some of his football genes — and more — from his father, who played linebacker at Fresno City College.
“He taught me to be humble, how to be a good man,” Fulcher said.
When asked if he could have tackled his son if he were in college shape today, the proud pop laughed.
“I haven’t told him this, but I’ll tell you: No way!” Melvin Fulcher said. “He has too many moves. I’d be stuck in cement.”
Marcus Fulcher isn’t thinking about pro ball nearly as much as he thinks about winning a fourth consecutive Big Sky championship. But Fulcher does peer into the future and ponders the idea of getting into clothes or fashion. He is well spoken, expressive and compassionate off the field. He smiles at the idea of a career in which he can use his people skills when his touchdown days are over. For now, Fulcher is a hard-charging back with a different off-field demeanor.
“I’m just a chill guy who wears casual sweats and some easy slides,” he said with a laugh, then explaining why he competes with such purpose. “I play for more than just myself. I play for my family and my team, for alumni and people who care about this program, people I don’t even know. I play for my sisters and parents. I take it very seriously. I make sure I eat right, take care of my body. I care a lot.”
The benefits of being different, of being noticed.