Marlon Jones had every excuse to fall through the cracks, every temptation to play the victim. But as he's about to graduate from both Frank Phillips College and Borger High School, the 18-year-old Jones has been anything but.
Marlon Jones of Borger runs 100 meters in just more than 10.5 seconds. It's over almost as quickly as it starts.
Perhaps that's symbolic. While Jones has run faster than only a handful of the state's high school sprinters, so fast in fact he'll run in the Class 4A 100 meters at next weekend's state track meet in Austin, the 100 is just a snippet of his life. While important, it's just a brief blur of who Jones is, what he's accomplished.
"I like staying on the right path and doing what I do because I have dreams, you know," Jones said. "Once you have a dream in your heart, you got to go get it and do what it takes to make the dream come true."
And that dream? It's rather broad, but worthy -- to have a better life for his mother Tisha Walker, as well as him, and eventually, a wife and children.
"Instead of being rebellious, he took up the duty to be the man of the house," Walker said. "It never ceases to amaze me how he can juggle all these things at one time."
Jones has seen what the challenges of a rough life and consequences of mistakes can mean. His namesake, his father, Marlon Jones, Sr., has been in state prison for more than half of his son's life.
His grandparents, Tisha Walker's parents Frank and Audrey Walker, tried to fill the void. Frank, in particular, was a male role model for Marlon, but he died in 2015.
With his grandmother having died in 2009, Tisha Walker was a single mom, working two, sometimes three jobs, for Marlon and his oldest sister of five years, Holly. After teaching life skill classes at Borger Middle School until 4 p.m., she works at Dollar General until 10 p.m. five nights a week.
And so there it is -- every excuse imaginable for Marlon to fall through the cracks, to play the victim. Father in prison, money scarce, mom often leaving him alone for hours at night while she worked. Temptation, self-pity. Marlon Jones, Jr., had it for the taking. Except...
"I know I have a foundation with God," he said. "You can't go wrong when you're following God and the support I have from my mom. When you're led by the greatest, when it's spirit-led, you can't go wrong."
Jones is one of 25 Borger seniors who will actually graduate from college before high school. Because of a dual credit program with nearby Frank Phillips Junior College, Jones will receive his associates degree in graduation ceremonies on Friday, four weeks before he walks at Borger High School.
Jones will also sing the national anthem at Frank Phillips. That's the way it goes for someone who grew up singing at New Jerusalem Church, whose bass voice is an important part of the all-state high school choir ensemble.
"Singing is something I find joy in," he said.
Jones played football in the fall, and basketball in the winter. That, and his sprint speed, speak to his athleticism, but there are other things that speak more to his character.
Jones, who coaches a third- and fourth-grade basketball team, was class president every year from eighth grade through his junior year. Term limits were never an issue.
"I'm a natural leader," he said. "I like to lead -- it's what I do."
But there are other bigger-picture ways that don't appear in yearbooks that clearly show Jones gets it. A couple of weeks ago,he and another senior met with principal Matt Ammerman. They asked for help in identifying any freshmen who might need some encouragement, a few they could sit down with at lunch to discuss the importance of getting involved and to provide some confidence.
Jones was the only Borger qualifier for the state meet. Borger track coach Jose Gonzales asked Jones to pick a teammate to work out with the next two weeks, someone to compete and push him. Gonzales expected Jones might pick a good friend or maybe a senior.
"He said, 'Coach, I want to take a sophomore,'" Gonzales said. "I wanted his understanding, and I asked him, 'Why?' He said that when he was a freshman, he went to state as an alternate on relay team. That really gave him the motivation to work hard. He wants to give someone like him that same motivation.
"He's a very mature man, and I'm going to call him a man because that's what he is."
Statistics show that many high school kids get in trouble in the hours after school when there's no adult supervision. Walker is at work until 10 p.m. most nights. But there her son is like clockwork in the Dollar General parking lot at 9:50 p.m., having completed homework and waiting to pick up his mother.
"I believe I can be a testimony to kids who don't have fathers," said Jones, who wants to major in political science with an an eye on law school. "I know people my age who use that as an excuse why they aren't where they want to be. It's given me an opportunity to talk to people who don't have a father, that you can still do what you want to but it's not going to be easy."
One hundred meters in a little more than 10 1/2 seconds. It's just a glimpse -- a quick glimpse -- into the life of Marlon Jones.
Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or 806-345-3318. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.