HOUSTON -- Marcus Thigpen fielded the punt, looked upfield and saw the seam wide open. He made one player miss and then only the kicker stood between him and his first NFL touchdown.
And he just couldn’t get tackled. He had been through way too much to have his potential greatest moment foiled by a kicker.
Didn’t happen. The Dolphins’ return specialist made his mark on Sunday’s season opener — a 30-10 loss to the Texans — when he returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
Thigpen played in preseason games with the Eagles and Broncos but never had played in a regular-season game until Sunday. Between two short stints in the NFL he saw action in the Canadian Football League, most recently in 2010 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
He said Sunday’s success, which included five kickoff returns for an average of 27 yards, only was a matter of time.
“It feels great, but I’m never content,” Thigpen said. “I’m always trying to get better. It’s definitely bittersweet. We didn’t get the win, and that’s the ultimate goal.”
Although the touchdown will remain one of his most positive memories, his most negative memory was not far behind after he crossed the goal line.
When Thigpen was 14 years old, he was driving a vehicle in a park with six other teenagers. They egged him on to drive faster as he approached a maze of trees. He said he forgot that it had recently rained.
He didn’t have time to break on the wet ground and ran the car into a tree. Thigpen escaped with minor scrapes from broken glass. The kids in the passenger’s side were stuck. As he tried to free them he saw one of the girls with a busted head and broken bones.
When he got the hospital he received the worst news. Lacrecia Daniels was dead.
Thigpen said Daniels was an ex-girlfriend. The accident crushed him, and he went through counseling. His punishment was probation.
He said Daniels’ family did not forgive him. He received death threats and had to transfer to another high school.
Thigpen said the accident was a turning point. He was headed down the wrong path with the wrong people before it happened. He said it made him realize he could not keep making poor decisions.
“I’ve dedicated my life to [Daniels],” Thigpen said on Sunday. “She’s living through me right now. Every time I score I take a knee and I thank God and think of her.”
Making better decisions helped him go in the right direction. He went on to win the state championship in the 100-meter dash at the Michigan high school track and field state championships. He had a successful football and track career at Indiana University.
Since graduating from college, he has been trying to gain footing in the NFL. That’s why Sunday meant so much. After all he has been through, he might have finally found a home.
“The toughest part is moving my family to different places,” Thigpen said. “I’m not going to quit [pursuing my dream]. I know this is what I want to do. It’s been a long road, but to have a solid foundation here now and for the coaches to trust and believe in me is a big deal.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity and blessed to be here.”