Marcos Nottingham has overcome more adversity than most people will have to deal with in their entire lives. The Wilson High senior was bouncing around foster homes five years ago, and now he’s an elite multi-sport athlete with a solid support group behind him.
“I feel lucky every day,” Nottingham said. “I’ve never had relationships like I do now.”
Nottingham was taken away from his biological mother as a nine-year-old. Because he came from a household that didn’t send him to school, Nottingham was a quiet kid who only spoke Spanish and liked to draw and paint as an outlet.
“I draw a lot of cartoons,” he said. “Anything I see, I think of a creative way to make it better.”
Nottingham said the next four years are kind of a blur while he moved to different temporary foster homes from Bellflower to Chino Hills. Returning to a full school schedule was difficult, and Nottingham relied more on television shows like Sponge Bob Squarepants and Fresh Prince Of Bell Air to help him learn English.
“Everything happened all of a sudden,” Nottingham said. “It taught me a lot about independent living and what I wanted. Like work and school habits, and just life… It was tough learning that.”
Some good news came in seventh grade when Nottingham was taken off of the asthma inhaler that he was given as a child, and better news was to follow at a local Kidsave event.
Kidsave is an adoption agency specifically geared towards finding homes for older kids living in orphanages or temporary foster homes, and their causal events match these kids with prospective adopting parents. One of them in 2012 was at a bowling ally, and that’s where Steven Nottingham, 49, met Marcos.
“He was a charming little guy,” Steven said. “The minute I met him I had an interest in learning about his story, and vice versa.”
“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” Marcos Nottingham remembers. “I knew that one of these people were going to be my family soon. I knew a family could get me to where I want to be.”
At the end of each event, Kidsave has each participant write down anyone they’d like to get to know better. Steven and Marcos wrote each others names, and Marcos added something else.
“He wrote that what his forever family looks like is someone to be on the sidelines watching him play sports,” Steven said.
With asthma behind him, and a parent to provide the opportunity, Nottingham tried as many sports as he could before his eighth grade year at Jefferson Middle School. He also had to learn how to live with a single father. It took six months for the adoption to become official, and nine months for Marcos to call Steven his Dad.
“We both knew this was home from the day he moved in,” Steven said. “Even though I’m dad, I never asked him to call me that until he started.”
Flag football came easy to Nottingham because of his strength and solid frame, so when he arrived at Wilson as a freshman he took to hitting like a natural. Coaches moved him to safety where he played with reckless abandon, and started for two years on the lower levels, but Nottingham found his athletic confidence on the wrestling mat.
The 5’8” 160-pound Nottingham is an All-Moore League wrestler, and CIF qualifier, who praises the guidance of coach Seth Wegter.
“He gave me a boost by saying ‘You’re good, Marcos, you can do anything you want, you just have to believe in it and wait’,” remembers Nottingham. “I said ‘Okay’.”
The fruits of his labor didn’t arrive on the football field as quickly. Nottingham changed positions to running back because of a team need, and then got hurt during his junior season while playing the role of Ian Issa’s backup. However, Nottingham had also learned all he could from Jacobi Hardy the year prior, and took those lessons into senior year with him.
“It didn’t really frustrate me (to not play) because I’ve never been that guy to shine,” Nottingham said. “I was used to it. Whatever they gave me, I’ll take it.”
Again, Nottingham had to wait his turn as a senior. The Bruins backfield started the season with a handful of options, but solid play and recent team injuries gave Nottingham the chance he’d been waiting for all of his life.
As the featured running back, Nottingham has rushed for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns in his last four games while averaging eight yards per carry and pushing Wilson into the playoffs. He also has the perfect football coach in Mark Ziegenhagen to guide him on and off of the field.
“Just like Marcos’ dad, we’re all here for the same reason, for the kids, and to make them better people,” Ziegenhagen said. “We’ve had a lot of fatherly talks. I can relate to where they’re coming from.”
Ziegenhagen was adopted by his grandparents when he was in fifth grade, and is in the process of officially adopting twins that he and his family have taken care of for five years.
“I’m just trying to guide them down the right path to help them become a man, and maybe a father later in life, who appreciates the people around them,” Ziegenhagen said. “Steven, who is our football booster club president, is doing that for Marcos. He makes him work for things other kids might just get, and I think that’s translated to the football field for Marcos.”
One of those things is a cell phone, which Steven said Marcos is free to buy with his own money when he turns 18.
“I see what electronics are doing to the sociability of our kids, and to their minds,” Steven said. “Marcos is one of the most social kids out there. He’s well liked and well respected by adults and kids. If he was allowed to live a dual life on these inanimate objects he might not be the kid he is today.”
Nottingham, who loves studying algebra and is getting good grades, said he never gave up hope while waiting for good fortune to find his life.
“I had to be a little man really quickly,” Nottingham said. “But I’ve never really had bad relationships. Everyone who has been in my life has meaning. I’ve never held grudges.”