Juco QB Nick Marshall's long road back

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
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The fresh start began with a rather impromptu meeting on the west side of Birmingham, Ala.

That’s when Nick Marshall got in Jeff Tatum’s car and started down the road toward his chance at a comeback.

Ever since that February day, Marshall has been on a mission to prove he deserves that second chance, and that he can make the most of it as a quarterback.

Nick Marshall
Courtesy of Garden City Community CollegeAfter a season as a defensive back at Georgia, Nick Marshall rediscovered his QB touch in junior college.
Now the enigmatic Garden City (Kan.) Community College sophomore is on Texas’ radar. He received a verbal scholarship offer last week and will take an official visit on Jan. 18.

To know what the Longhorns would be taking a chance on requires knowing where Marshall has been.

Who is Nick Marshall? Ask his high school coach, Mark Ledford, and he’ll tell you Marshall is the best athlete he’s ever coached and one who can make any college team better.

The kid did it all at Wilcox County High School in rural Rochelle, Ga. He finished as Georgia’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes, won a state title as a junior and Class A offensive player of the year honors as senior after accounting for 53 total touchdowns. Oh, and he might’ve been an even better basketball player.

The coach was befuddled, then, as to why the majority of Marshall’s freshman-year snaps at the University of Georgia came on kickoff coverage as a defensive back.

“As a fan of Nick Marshall, I know Nick with the ball in his hands and the things he can do -- he’s electric,” Ledford said. “He can do things not a lot of people can do.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat quarterback signed with Georgia in 2011 as an athlete. He wasn't sure he had what it took to play quarterback in college, so he accepted a move to the secondary.

His stint at Georgia lasted less than eight months. On Feb. 3, Marshall and two teammates were dismissed from the program for their involvement in a theft-related incident.

Marshall packed up and went home to Rochelle, Ga. He met with Ledford the next day for two reasons: To come clean, and come up with a new plan.

“He was apologetic for what he had done, and he admitted his mistakes and what had happened,” Ledford said. “He just wanted a chance. He wanted to go to a junior college so he’d have an opportunity to get back to Division I.”

Marshall made another declaration that day: He wanted to be a quarterback again.

“I think he got to college and realized, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can play quarterback,’ ” Ledford said.

Jeff Tatum was plenty pleased to hear that. Before he became head coach at Garden City, he’d been the offensive coordinator at Georgia Military College. He’d signed a few kids from Wilcox County but had known all about Marshall since the boy was a ninth grader.

He called Tatum on a Saturday and offered Marshall a shot at starting over at a junior college 1,300 miles away in western Kansas. More importantly, he vowed he would take care of the quarterback.

“I called and said, ‘Mark, I’d love to have him, and I guarantee you I will play him at quarterback,’ ” Tatum said. “I think the No. 1 concern of coach Ledford when he left Georgia was, will he be taken care of?”

Two days after that call, Marshall and Tatum got in the coach’s truck and took a drive. He brought the luggage he’d yet to unpack since leaving Georgia, and together they made the five-hour trip to Birmingham.

Marshall gathered his baggage and said hello to the new opportunity that awaited him. The next day, he already was enrolled in classes.

And by the first game of the season, he was a superstar once more. He scored six touchdowns in his debut, including four on the ground. The true breakout game came against Fort Scott Community College in October: 366 passing yards, 241 rushing yards, five total touchdowns.

He was a playmaker, Tatum said, but also a leader. He threw for 2,837 yards and rushed for 949 in the regular season to earn conference player of the year honors. With Marshall at the helm, the Broncbusters went 7-4 and won the Mississippi Bowl after his last-second, 62-yard pass set up the game-winning field goal.

“What he was doing at Garden City, we’d seen all of it,” Ledford said. “He did the same thing for us. Now he’s just a little bit bigger, stronger and I think a little faster.”

One thing he wasn’t was perfect. Marshall threw 19 interceptions in 2012. His coaches chalk that up to Marshall’s urge to be a playmaker at all times.

“It’s kind of like Brett Favre,” Tatum said. “There’s time he has so much confidence in his arm that he thinks he can make that throw. He takes chances, because there’s so many times he makes those throws and gets away with them.”

Ledford knows he won’t get away with that in college. What he will do -- whether it’s at Indiana, Kansas State, Auburn or Texas, his four finalists -- all depends on how quickly he gets the opportunity to do anything.

As a summer enrollee, he doesn’t get the benefit of college spring ball. He’ll have lots of catching up to do if he wants to be a starter in 2013.

Some will question whether he has what it takes to stick at quarterback. Tatum, for one, thought Marshall was wasting his time and talent playing defensive back at Georgia.

“I knew Nick was one of those guys who likes to control the whole situation,” Tatum said. “He proved that on the field this season for us. He enjoys having the pressure on him.”

He’ll be signing up for considerable pressure and expectations if he does end up with the Longhorns. But those who know Marshall best say that challenge won’t faze him.

He’s been down this road before.

Max Olson | email

Texas/Big 12 reporter

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