Trey Marshall was pleading with doctors to sedate him. Minutes earlier he had been wildly swinging at trainers and biting his coach’s collar as he laid on a high school football field in Tallahassee. Now, he just wanted relief from the intense pain in his stomach.
The Florida State safety who coach Jimbo Fisher said has a reputation for hitting so hard it’ll “knock the pee out of ya” was still a senior at Columbia High in Lake City, Florida, when he took a hit to the midsection during a game. He was rushed to the hospital, where it was revealed the forceful blow had ruptured his stomach and the organ’s secretions were poisoning his body.
It was a condition some of the doctors couldn’t even remember hearing or learning about in medical textbooks. None had ever before seen it, according to his coach.
“The doctors told me through all their readings, they weren’t sure they ever came across reading that someone ruptured the stomach,” Columbia high coach Brian Allen said.
Doctors told Marshall’s mother the stomach “literally burst like a balloon” and fluids were leaking into his body as he internally bled. If they hadn’t taken him to surgery right away, he might be dead.
The Florida State sophomore and reigning ACC co-defensive back of the week, is 6 feet tall, 207 pounds. After the Sept. 5, 2013, operation, however, Marshall was a frail 140 pounds and regrouping from the 50 pounds he lost.
Marshall, third on the Seminoles in tackles, doesn’t relive that night too often, now that teammates are used to seeing the lengthy scar bisecting his abdomen.
Before that early-season game, Allen warned his team how Tallahassee Lincoln would set up walls for its returner and legally pick off unsuspecting opponents.
That’s what happened to Marshall, who had an opponent force his helmet into his abdomen, knocking him off his feet. Rakeem Battle, who has played with Marshall since they were 10, had never seen his friend fail to lift himself to his feet.
“He was just screaming,” Battle said.
Marshall said it was the worst pain of his life. Coaches and trainers tended to him on the field and tried to put him on a stretcher, but he screamed for no one to touch him. When they ignored his shrieks, he flailed wildly.
“I told them, ‘Leave me alone! Don’t touch me!’ I was trying to punch people,” Marshall said.
Allen whispered in Marshall’s ear to allow him to lift Marshall onto the stretcher. Marshall relented but left a bite mark on his coach’s collarbone.
“He bit the crap out of my shoulder,” Allen said. “He didn’t say anything.”
Paramedics rushed Marshall to the emergency room. By then, Marva Jordan, Marshall’s mother, was speeding along Interstate 10 to reach her son. She was working that night at the Lake City VA Medical Center when she received a call Marshall was hurt.
“I almost passed out. We did about 100 mph going to Tallahassee,” she said, noting a state trooper stopped her car about 30 minutes outside of the city. “I was literally shaking.”
While on the way, Marshall’s father, Wallace, called Jordan and said their son was undergoing emergency surgery to clean and repair his stomach cavity. Surgeons weren’t sure Marshall would survive.
After a surgery lasting close to five hours, Marshall was alive, but when he awoke in ICU, Marshall broke down.
The Florida State commitment and planned early enrollee thought his career was over. He asked Verne Amerson, his high school defensive backs coach, if he would play again.
“I said ‘Yeah,’ but you say that just to keep his spirits up while really not knowing,” Amerson said.
Doctors told him he’d be able to return to football, but inconsolable, Marshall refused to start rehab. Family and doctors implored him to walk, but he would just slink back down in bed.
“I was ready to just give up. I said, ‘Forget it, it’s over, it’s done,’” he said.
His mother finally had enough of Marshall pitying himself.
“He lost all hope. I didn’t,” she said. “I leaned beside him in bed and said ‘Get your behind up now. You’re not from a family of quitters. You’re going to walk.’”
It was the pep talk Marshall needed, he said. He refused any more painkillers. With the aid of a walker, he began moving around the hospital.
Marshall was 50 pounds lighter, however. The teenager who used to spend $20 at fast-food chains was fed through tubes for most of his two-week hospital stay.
He still shakes his head when he thinks about the first time he looked at the mirror following the injury.
“I didn’t like seeing myself like that,” he said. “I didn’t even want to go back to school looking like that.”
When he returned to the gym, he was curling 20 pounds dumbbells instead of the 95-pound bar, but he worked his way into decent enough shape to rejoin his high school team for the playoffs less than two months after his surgery.
“It was never about him, always about his brothers, always wanting to play for us,” Amerson said. “He wanted to put his life on the line for us.”
By the time Marshall enrolled at Florida State in January 2014, he was 184 pounds, close to his old weight.
“It tells me a lot about the guy’s inner mind and inner workings,” Fisher said. “… He’s a tough bird and that’s the way he plays and you see it on the field. You come back from a knee or shoulder, but when you come back from a life-threatening injury, to go back and play the way he plays, there’s a lot of courage in that.”
When Amerson visited Marshall in the weight room recently, 385 pounds sat on the bench press. Amerson asked if he should videotape Marshall, but he shook his head. This wasn’t anything extraordinary for him.
“He reached from the bottom of his gut and pushed forward,” Wallace said. “He’s come a long way.”