JACKSONVILLE – This story wasn't the big man's idea.
The lights and cameras Saturday weren't Sen'Derrick Marks' idea, either. To him, that wasn't what that strikingly moving, heartwarming night was about.
It sure wasn't about Facebook or Twitter, either.
Yes, Marks – the Jaguars' veteran defensive tackle – is world-wise enough to know when an NFL player asks an 18-year-old cancer patient to the prom, it likely will make headlines; when you go in a Lamborghini, the pictures likely will go viral. But although that happened when Marks took Khameyea Jennings to the Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology prom Saturday, he wasn't all that comfortable with the aftermath and the publicly that came with it.
To him, this wasn't about that at all. This was personal, strikingly so.
"This something I'll share with my kids," Marks said Monday. "You always hear the cliché, 'It touched my heart,' but this really stuck with me: it touched my heart. I can't let it go. It was real cool. It was unbelievable."
If you're a Jaguars fan who follows the team closely, you already know a lot about Marks. You may even have met him. If you know a lot about him, you probably like Marks.
If you've met him, you almost certainly do.
This story is another reason to like him, and although Marks was reluctant to talk about it, it's a story that should be heard. Did we have to twist his arm a bit? Yeah, but this was worth the twist.
It started last week when Jaguars community relations manager Renzo Sheppard approached Marks about an appearance. Marks regularly makes appearances for the Jaguars, but he prefers some to others. He isn't big on offseason football camps, for example. To him, a one-day camp where a player appears is great, but what about the other 364 days of the year?
Given a chance, he'd rather give himself than his name.
When Sheppard approached Marks about taking Khameyea to her prom as part of the Dreams Come True project, he quickly agreed – with a caveat. If it was to be done, it was going to be done his way.
The original Dreams Come True plan was to provide a limousine for the pair, to do the night up right. Marks insisted the night be done a little more "right" than that. Marks' fiancé, Rayan White, bought Khameyea a tiara; Marks bought her a necklace at Jared's. Khameyea opted against the necklace, but wore the tiara.
As far as the limo, Marks had a different idea there, too.
"I wanted it to be a good night for her," Marks said. "I wanted to do it the whole way. They said, 'We'll get a limo.' I said, 'I've got a Lamborghini.' If she wants to, we'll pick her up in the Lamborghini.'''
That's what Khameyea indeed wanted, so that's what happened – and much about the night was indeed perfect. Though Khameyea knew little about football and confessed to not understanding the game, they talked much of the night. He wore a gold and white tuxedo to go with her gold and white dress. Marks talked to Khameyea and her sister; he talked to Khameyea and her friend.
Still, one thing gnawed at Marks. When the pair arrived at the event, there was news media there. It was a good story, one that indeed went national and viral, and reporters naturally wanted a comment from Marks. Being a nice guy, Marks complied.
"I really didn't like that and I thought about it the whole night," Marks said. "I called her mom (Sunday). I wanted her to know it was genuine and truly from the heart and not just a publicity stunt."
Marks gave Khameyea's mother his number, said if there was anything they needed, to go to dinner, to talk … anything …
"It wasn't a one-time thing," Marks said.
That was obvious talking to Marks. There's no "best quote" that sums it up because there's no quote that accurately reveals a man's heart. But the way Marks spoke it was clear when the cameras went off, and when the door to the Lamborghini slammed behind him, this night stayed close to him.
"I just can't forget it,'' Marks said. "I just can't say, 'Move on … go to the next appearance … go shake some hands.' No. I don't want to do it. I don't think I want to do another appearance or even until I fully take this in. I can't really narrow it down to why."
Marks, speaking early this week, said he worried before about the appearance. He's 6-feet-2, 294 pounds with a heart just as big and very soft, and he tends to get attached to people fast. He had a feeling beforehand it would be tough afterward. He was right, and speaking this week he spoke of spending Sunday thinking about Khameyea's remarkable peace, and her equally remarkable approach to life.
"She's an awesome person," Marks said. "Everybody comes to me and says, 'Oh, what a great thing you did.' What you don't see is what she did for me.' Everybody sees it as, 'An NFL player took someone to the prom.' But what she did for me was amazing. …
"Every time you see the headline it's, 'NFL player takes cancer patient to the prom.' I don't really like it that way. It meant more to me than that."
That was evident when Marks' spoke. Evident, too, was Saturday was a night he'll never forget – and a story worth twisting an arm to tell.