SUWANEE - Marquese Quiles never imagined he would have the type of success he's had this season.
The North Gwinnett football player wasn't even the team's best defensive back last year. Quiles was overshadowed by Cameron Demps, a Division I prospect. When Demps transferred to Peachtree Ridge in January, that opened the door for Quiles to be the star.
And, boy, has he flourished.
Quiles leads the county in interceptions with seven after having just one last year. He's made his presence known on special teams with seven blocked kicks and has the No. 5 Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs for the first time in school's 50-year history.
"He's really become a complete corner," North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said. "He's got the ability to really blanket somebody and he's a good open-field tackler. He's very cerebral. He has a high football IQ."
Quiles spent the offseason working on his speed. He dropped his 40 time to 4.4 seconds, giving him the ability to cover speedy receivers. He's also used his speed to develop a knack for blocking kicks.
"That came out of nowhere," Quiles said. "Track helped with that. I come out of the blocks like in a track stance."
He blocked two punts and one field goal in the Bulldogs' Week 2 victory over Brookwood. The following week he had two interceptions and a blocked punt for a touchdown to lead North to a win over Mill Creek.
"Obviously, he's been huge in the kicking game. I mean he's changed games with his blocked kicks," Sphire said. "He's been a game turner, a momentum turner in terms of an interception or a blocked kick."
The senior has added blocked kicks against South Forsyth and North Forsyth and another one against Brookwood in the playoffs, although now teams are more alert to where he is on the field than at the beginning of the season.
"When we go out there on special teams, there's about five guys pointing at me saying 'there he is, there he is,'" Quiles said. "Sometimes they still can't stop me. I'm just an inch away."
Quiles was a running back/wide receiver for North as a freshman. He made the change to defense as a sophomore on the JV. Last season was his first year starting as he posted 45 tackles and one interception.
But the 6-foot, 165-pound Quiles has improved his coverage skills since then, making him one of the top cover corners in the county. He routinely lines up against opposing team's top receivers.
"He's got some nasty in him as far as wanting to mix it up and compete with a receiver and wants to cover their best guy," Sphire said. "He's got the athletic ability to go with that competitiveness and he's got the cerebral aptitude to process it all. That's a pretty good package."
North Gwinnett (12-1) will face Walton in Saturday's semifinal game at the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs played the Raiders in Week 1, which North won 21-16. It's Walton's only loss of the season as its reeled off 12 straight victories since the opener.
"They're a good team," Quiles said. "They have the same record as us, so they must be doing something right."
In the Game 1 matchup, Walton drove to the Bulldogs' 25 in the final seconds. Raider quarterback Ray Raburn was picked off by, who else, Quiles to secure the win.
"I believe coaches lay out plans, but players win championships," Sphire said. "You've got to put your guys in a position to implement the plan to the best of their ability, but there always comes a key point in games when individual players change games. He's done some of that for us."
SideBar: THE QUILES FILE
Who: Marquese Quiles
School: North Gwinnett
Favorite movie: "Spanglish"
Favorite food: Spanish food
Favorite athlete: Peyton Manning
Favorite music artist: Chris Brown
' Has 50 tackles, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles for 12-1 Bulldogs
' Has seven blocked kicks this year (three punts, four field goals)
' Leads Gwinnett County in interceptions with seven
' Maintains 3.0 GPA
' Bench presses 245 pounds, squats 350, runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash
' Has offers from several Division I schools including Furman, Tennessee Tech, Air Force, Navy, Samford and Bowling Green