The summer before a top football recruit’s senior year generally consists of camps, training, and training for camps — a busy and draining tour considered a necessity for players hoping to gain exposure and earn Football Bowl Subdivision offers.
But when Forestville running back/defensive back Marcel Joly, with offers from Maryland, Vanderbilt, Iowa, Rutgers, Old Dominion and Temple already in his pocket, asked Coach Charles Harley if he could skip the showcase circuit to stay home and take a job at Wendy’s, Harley didn’t hesitate.
“I had no problem with it at all,” Harley said. “I seconded the thought of him staying close and spending time with his family.”
Family was the reason Joly, who orally committed to Iowa following a visit last weekend, wanted the time away from football in the first place. It was his idea to move from behind the line of scrimmage to behind the Wendy’s counter; his choice to work through the summer months and earn money to support his mother.
Jeanne Emmie Basille arrived in the United States from Haiti in mid-July after a years-long battle with immigration paperwork waged while her son, who left the Caribbean nation at age 10 to live with his father in the United States, grew up.
“Every time she went to the embassy [to try to get a visa], they rejected her,” Joly recalled. “She was missing some paper.”
“A little piece of paper. . . . ” as Joly put it exasperatedly, kept mother from son for nearly eight years.
“Since freshman year, like homecoming, I’ve been seeing other kids with their mother. I’m like, jeez, can I have my mother?” Joly said.
The separation was just as hard on Basille.
“The thing that kills me is I couldn’t call to see where he was, and it crushed my heart that I wasn’t able to see him,” Basille said in Creole as Marcel interpreted for her. The two would speak on the phone three times a week, but that was never enough for Basille, who worried constantly about the details: where her son was, what he was doing and if he was safe.
Late one July night, someone woke the sleeping Joly. It was a face he recognized, one he’d pictured through countless phone conversations, one he’d hoped he’d somehow see in the stands one Friday night.
“When she came in and I saw her, I was just crying and everything,” Joly said. “I can’t really explain it. I’d been seeing pictures, she’d been sending pictures, but just seeing her — it was like a dream come true.”
“I didn’t know what to say,” Basille said. “There was too much excitement and emotion in my mind. When he left Haiti he was a little child, and now he was growing up.”
No longer the skinny 10-year-old soccer player she’d last seen in Haiti, Marcel had grown into a 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame even without his mother’s savory Haitian cooking. His arms were chiseled and his skinny runner’s legs looked suited to that other kind of football he’d grown up playing.
“He doesn’t really have juke moves, he has soccer moves,” said Harley of what enabled Joly, who didn’t begin playing American football until age 12, to emerge as a coveted recruit by his sophomore year. “Most guys they juke, it’s a lot of upper body, a lot of head fakes. His, it’s in his feet.”
Effortlessly polite and genuine , Joly had grown up emotionally, too. That growth, in part, came under the watchful eye of Harley, who met him in eighth grade, hosts Joly at his home the night before games, and who Joly says “taught him how to be a man.”
Joly took his late hours at Wendy’s in stride as he worked to help his mother despite her urgings — “she didn’t want me to,” he laughed, explaining that she has knee problems that have kept her from working. Basille lives with Joly and his father but will soon move in with Joly’s sister , to help care for her upcoming child.
Not only was her son grown enough to help her through her transition to the United States, but Basille also found Joly had grown into one of the more highly recruited football players in the region. He continued to receive hundreds of letters despite the decision not to attend summer camps, though the formal offers did stop.
“It’s like, wow, that’s actually for me. My name is on it,” Joly said. “My mother looks at it and says ‘Oh my God, look at my son.’ ”
While Basille is happy with Joly’s decision to attend Iowa, the idea of renewed separation dampers the celebration for a mother and son only recently reunited.
“It’s kind of up and down right now since she just got back from Haiti, so we’re still adjusting to [the decision],” Joly said. “But she’s happy and she says she’s blessed that I’m getting an opportunity that not everybody gets.”