Work Samples

From Millbrook to Georgia Tech to James Madison, Marcus Marshall chases his NFL dream

December 11, 2017

By David Driver
For the The News & Observer
Used with permission

HARRISONBURG, VA.

When Marcus Marshall decided he would transfer after two seasons at Georgia Tech, the Millbrook High graduate was determined to get it right this time.

“I am not going to make the same mistake again,” he said of the recruiting process.

While both of his parents attended James Madison, where his father Warren had a stellar Hall of Fame career as a running back for the Dukes, the school in the scenic Shenandoah Valley was not a slam dunk for the Raleigh running back.

For one, he attracted interest from the University of Iowa, a power five conference member just like Georgia Tech.

But the pull of JMU – a Football Championship Subdivision stalwart and 2016 national champion – proved too enticing, due in part to the fact he would not have to sit out a year since he would be moving down a level.

“The only (other) place I considered in the end was Iowa. I took a visit to Iowa as well. That was it,” said Marshall, in his first season at JMU after playing last year for the Yellow Jackets. “I knew a few people here. My parents were here, my uncle went here. It felt like home. I was recruited pretty heavily by JMU when I was a senior in high school. When I got here everyone treated me like I had been here for years.”

His father said playing time had a role in the decision to leave Georgia Tech.

“That was not the main factor,” Warren Marshall said Monday. “The transition from freshman to sophomore, I think there was some disappointment coming into his sophomore year when a freshman (Dedrick Mills) was named the starter. There was some contention there. I think it was a little bit of a personality clash (with coaches), but he never got into any disagreement or argument. We felt like they should make the freshman earn the position. (Mills) fit their profile. (Head coach) Paul Johnson, I have respect for him. He handled us extremely well. We left on good terms.”

Mills was dismissed from Georgia Tech in August.

The transfer seems to be working out for the 5-10, 207-pound Marshall, a junior running back who rushed for 128 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns here on Friday as the Dukes defeated Weber State 31-28 in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. The game-winner came on a 46-yard field goal by Ethan Ratke as time expired before a national TV audience on ESPN2 and 13,490 chilly fans.

“I have the same goals. Since I was six years old I wanted to go to college and play in the NFL,” Marshall said. “Everyone has that dream. If you came down a level and tried to alter that you would be selling yourself short.”

JMU (13-0) has now won 25 games in a row, with the last loss coming 56-28 in its third game of the 2016 season at North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Dukes will now host the FCS semifinal game here Saturday against South Dakota State at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU with the winner advancing to the national title game Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, against either Sam Houston State or North Dakota State, who play Friday night.

“Personally I wanted to win. I loved winning,” said Marshall, leaning on a wall near the JMU pressbox late Friday night. “I consider myself a pretty big team player. My stats have not been through the roof. The most important thing is definitely winning. As long as we are doing that you can’t complain.”

That performance by Marshall against Weber State came after he ran for just 15 yards on five carries in a playoff win December 2 against Stony Brook, a fellow member of the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Dukes ran for just 49 yards on 38 carries against Stony Brook but went for 190 yards on 44 carries as a team on Friday in the win over Weber State. Marshall set the tone early here Friday, going for 43 yards on the first scoring drive for the Dukes after they gave up a first quarter touchdown for the first time this year.

“He has the ability. We had a talk,” JMU coach Mike Houston said of chatting with Marshall after the Stony Brook game. “You can’t win (at this level) without running the football.”

Marshall led Georgia Tech in rushing for two seasons, gaining a total of 1,278 yards and eight touchdowns.

“He had some learning curve (coming to JMU). It was great to see him have that big night. He is a special person and a special player. I think he can be a difference maker every time he touches the ball,” Houston said Monday. “He was a huge factor in the ballgame (Friday). He was what we envisioned he could be.”

This year he has rushed 117 times for 617 yards and eight touchdowns, with a season-high 135 yards against Maine.

Marcus Marshall joins other recently successful Triangle backs, including Bryce Love (Wake Forest High), a Stanford runner who was second in the Heisman voting Saturday; brother Keith Marshall (Millbrook), who played at Georgia and with the Washington Redskins; and junior Nyheim Hines (Garner), who has 1,040 yards on the ground for North Carolina State this season.

Now Marshall will get to play at least one more game at home this month when JMU hosts the semifinal contest Saturday.

“I am expecting a good game,” said Marshall, who has one more year of eligibility after this season. “A semifinal game, at that point it is the best teams in the country you are playing against. I expect to have a good week of preparation for my team. I expect to have a good game and I expect to win.”