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West Fargo's Marcus Gulley developing into 'fast' and 'physical' playmaker for Dragons defense

Minnesota State Moorhead linebacker Marcus Gulley has developed into a versatile defender for the Dragons defense.

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Minnesota State Moorhead linebacker Marcus Gulley (2) watches a drill during the team’s spring game Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Scheels Field and Alex Nemzek Stadium.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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MOORHEAD — Minnesota State Moorhead head football coach Steve Laqua had this vision of versatility for linebacker Marcus Gulley since Gulley entered the program.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Gulley can drop into coverage like a defensive back, blitz off the edge and play multiple linebacker positions for the Dragons.

“He does a little bit of everything and he does all of it pretty well,” Laqua said. “It’s something we hoped he would grow into. We felt like he’s been taking football and learning seriously and the coaching. He’s taken a lot of pride in developing himself into this player.”

A redshirt sophomore, Gulley started last fall as a freshman and is expected to start at linebacker again this fall. The Dragons completed their spring practices Saturday with their annual spring game. The MSUM defense, the Gray team, defeated the offense, the Red team, 27-25 at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium.

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Minnesota State Moorhead Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Carlton Littlejohn directs a drill during their spring game Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Nemzek Stadium.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Gulley likes how the Dragons have approached this spring coming off a 5-6 record last fall. MSUM had four losses of six points or less.

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“I like how our team has really bought into the process,” said Gulley, a West Fargo High School graduate who joined the Dragons program in 2020. “We’re making sure we’re coming every day and looking to get better. … I feel like this team, we’re really molding into what we want our team to look like in the fall and I feel like we have a lot of culture.”

Gulley was a two-year starter for the Packers, starting on both offense and defense. He played both safety and linebacker during his high school career and that’s helped him develop into a versatile player in college.

Gulley said starting for the Dragons last fall was key in his on-field development. He’s also gained around 20 pounds since last season without losing speed.

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Minnesota State Moorhead Head Coach Steve Laqua directs their spring game Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Nemzek Stadium.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

“I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable, especially with that last season that let me dip my toe into college football and I feel it really gave me the experience I needed to come into this year and step up as a leader,” Gulley said. “The game is slowing down for me. That’s one of the biggest things, play recognition is one of the things I want to take into next season.”

Gulley ranked third on the team in tackles last season with 67 total, including four for a loss, in 11 games. Josiah Behm, who also started last fall, led the Dragons with 86 total tackles. James Eggert, from Moorhead, also played extended time at linebacker and had 51 tackles in 11 games.

“I feel like our linebackers are the heart of our defense since we’ve got guys who played a lot last year,” Gulley said.

Laqua expects that linebacker group to have a greater level of maturity next fall.

“I think they’re all really smart players. They understand the game and the system,” Laqua said. “They are tough kids, mentally tough. They don’t get rattled. They bounce back from poor plays well.”

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Laqua credits co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Carlton Littlejohn with the development of defensive players like Gulley. A former North Dakota State linebacker, Littlejohn was part of four NCAA Division I FCS national championship teams.

“You can really see that Carlton Littlejohn has done a good job of developing them,” Laqua said of the linebacking group. “Especially Marcus’ style of play is how Carlton played. So you are starting to see some of those things come out which is exciting for the future.”

Laqua said Gulley has the ability to play nickel back at times, be a run stopper near the line of scrimmage and is also one of the team’s better blitzers off the edge.

“He’s a great blend of size and speed,” Laqua said. “Marcus covers a lot of ground and I think he’s gotten better and better in having a knack for that position. He’s growing into that position and doing a really good job. He’s fast and he’s physical.”

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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