Marcus Antione Hairston understands what it means to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Last January, the 18-year-old was arrested in Greensboro along with several friends for a crime he didn't commit.At the time, he was a football and basketball all-star at Morehead High School in Rockingham County, but the arrest ruined his senior year and ended his hopes for a college scholarship.

He's still trying to make up for it.

Eleven months ago, he and four friends were spending the weekend like any other.

After going to a Greensboro night club on a Saturday evening, they went to a nearby drive-through hamburger chain. It was about 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning - Jan. 4.

More interested in talking to pretty girls at the drive-through , Hairston didn't join in when two of his friends got out of the car and walked over to a man who, without provocation, had begun yelling and cursing at them with racial epithets.

He didn't see them punch the man or take the guy's money. He heard about it when the pair came back to the car.

The man screamed more racial slurs at them, and one of Hairston's friends got out of the car again and threw a bottle at the man.

Someone phoned police.

Hairston told officers he wasn't involved. But when the victim identified Hairston as one of his attackers, he was charged with common law robbery.

"Marcus Hairston was misidentified," Guilford County Assistant District Attorney Robert Enochs now says.

It was a mistake, one that was rectified Oct. 4 when the charges against Hairston were dropped. Hairston's friends convinced the assistant district attorney that he wasn't involved.

But it's been a humiliating nine months for Hairston, especially what became a nightmarish senior year at Morehead High in Eden.

Hairston had been popular. A running back, he made the 2003 All-County football team at the beginning of his senior year. After all, he scored 20 touchdowns.

Expectations were high for his senior year basketball season as it began.

College scouts were calling constantly, offering scholarships in both football and basketball.

N.C. A&T, the College of Charleston and Methodist College at Fayetteville all wanted him. Hairston was leaning toward East Carolina, a Division IA school.

After the charges, Morehead High administrators considered expelling Hairston. They allowed him to stay in school but kicked him off the basketball team and banned him from all school activities.

That meant no prom. And he couldn't attend any of his school's basketball games in Rockingham County.

Then, most of the phone calls from colleges stopped coming. The scholarship offers dried up.

"It hurt that I couldn't play," Hairston said.

His grades dropped. He ate little and spent hours locked in his room.

It felt like someone had died, Hairston's mother, Yvonne, said. Family and friends would call, crying, or stop by for somber visits.

Most of Hairston's family hadn't been to college, and they had rested their hopes on his success. It seemed that was over.

"We just fell apart. We knew his life did, but ours did, too," Yvonne Hairston said.

She was embarrassed to leave the house, fearing people would stare.

She constantly worried about her son. She and her husband, Al Hairston, would talk to him, trying to break through his depression.

Hairston's geometry teacher reached out to him, offering help with school work and a friendly ear, and his grades improved before graduation.

He accepted an offer to play basketball for Methodist College, a Division III school. He chose the school, though it withdrew its scholarship offer.

Hairston has shone at Methodist, being named USA South Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week in November.

"He's an example of someone bouncing back and not letting circumstances pull him down," said Chris Carter, Hairston's high school principal.

With the charges dropped, Hairston thinks Methodist will offer him a scholarship next year.

He wants to transfer to a larger school in a year or two and plans on contacting East Carolina again.

Staring proudly at his son during an interview, Al Hairston said the ordeal has "made him stronger."

\ Contact Kory Dodd at 627-4881, Ext. 119 or kdodd@news-record.com

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