LA Daily News columnist Ramona Shelburne talked to Marlon Lucky five years ago, then again recently and noted the difference:
He was shy back then. A superstar running back on the field, but super quiet off of it. His silence guarded a fragile heart that had been scarred more times in his first 12 years than most endure in a lifetime.
A broken home, a move across the country and out of his mother's custody, and a difficult adjustment to a new life - all by the time he entered North Hollywood High in 2000.
But the 23-year-old man sitting at a table in an artsy North Hollywood cafe didn't seem anything like that guarded high school senior.
He was laughing easily, chatting openly about his up-and-down career at the University of Nebraska, sharing details from one of the worst nights of his life, and talking about his hopes and dreams for the next phase of his life, which will take shape this weekend after the NFL draft.
He seemed centered and together. He'd showed up for the interview a couple minutes early, even text messaged an hour before to confirm the time and place.
Marlon Lucky might have looked the same, but he had clearly done a lot of growing up.
"Yeah, I guess so. When I turned 21 I guess that's when the grown-man thing started kicking in," he said. "I remember saying to my uncle, `I kind of have to grow up, huh?'
Fair or not, Marlon Lucky not only was a talented running back, but also ended up being Nebraska's poster child for recruiting excesses earlier this decade. In the early part of his Husker career, Lucky struggled with the limelight, but that infamous hospitalization after his sophomore season probably pushed Lucky past that issue.
What happened that Sunday? Simple. He had a migraine headache, and went to the medicene cabinet and grabbed a bunch of Advil to knock it out. Except it was Advil PM, the headache medicene with a sleep aid. Oops.
"The hospital thing really changed him and turned him around," said Shawn Kang, his longtime friend and former assistant coach at North Hollywood. "I think he just realized how fleeting his opportunities are and began to appreciate everything he had. It was a scary time, but it was a blessing in disguise."
And Lucky started to realize his place in life.
After his week in the hospital, Lucky learned he had a much larger family than he imagined. When he stepped back on the field six months later, the cheers from Nebraska fans were as loud and unconditional as ever.
"I guess that's when I realized I had to grow up so I could be a role model to all those kids," he said. "All those kids who send me messages on Facebook, asking for advice. For my younger brother and sister (Sade). I had to grow up for them, too."
I think Husker fans can all agree or disagree about the relative talents of Marlon Lucky. In a different era, with a different name, and maybe prior to the rise of internet recruiting sites, he might have been a great difference maker. I still think he played out of position most of his career; I don't think he was a great running back as much as he was a great receiver. When I see Marcus Mendoza at wide receiver, I think I'll always wonder what Marlon Lucky would have looked like in that role.
No matter that, his time at Nebraska is over. His senior season didn't end the way he would have liked it to; a turf toe and the rise of Roy Helu meant his senior season could be viewed as a disappointment. Unfair perhaps? Maybe, but it was also unfair to shoulder Lucky with the baggage of "five stars" and "the seeds of Nebraska's renaissance" either.
Marlon Lucky learned a lot at Nebraska, and even if he doesn't end up with a long NFL career, he'll be a success.