Commentary

Keith Marshall smart player -- literally

Five-star RB earns praise for academics and football while receiving UA Game jersey

Originally Published: September 28, 2011
By Dave Hooker | ESPN Recruiting

RALEIGH, N.C. -- School administrators didn't focus on football when they opened the ceremony to officially name Keith Marshall to the Under Armour All-America Game.

Instead, they spoke of his contributions to Millbrook High School as an overall student-athlete and specifically mentioned his 4.3 grade point average.

"What separates him from the typical high school player or any athlete is his desire to be the best in all aspects of life, not just on the field but in the classroom as well," Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore said during the 2012 American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour held in the school gymnasium in front of students, family and other school administrators. "Whether it be with football or not, Keith Marshall has a bright future."

In truth, Marshall didn't have much choice about his academic achievements, that is, if he wanted to play football. His mother saw to that.

"That's really -- in our household -- Plan A," Denice Marshall said of academics. "They get to do other things because they achieve in the classroom. It's really great that he's done as much work in the classroom as he's done on the field so that he can achieve those standards. That's really phenomenal to see. I'm extremely proud. My husband is extremely proud."

On the field, Keith Marshall, who's No. 6 in the ESPNU 150, isn't too shabby either. The five-star prospect is rated the top-tailback in the nation, the top prospect in North Carolina and has more scholarship offers than he can recall. He's also Millbrook's all-time leading rusher and has over 650 yards this season despite tendinitis in his knees from going straight to football from track and facing defenses intent on stopping him.

"Sometimes they put nine in the box, but it was like that last year too," said Marshall, who said he's just now starting to feel 100-percent healthy.

Inscore has gotten to the point where he'd be shocked if stopping Marshall wasn't the opposition's primary goal.

"He's a five-star recruit so there's no hidden factor," the coach said. "In this area, he's gotten a lot of publicity so every game people are game planning to stop him. For him to have 100 to 150 yards in a game is a pretty good accomplishment."

When healthy, however, Marshall can show enough flashes against any defense to draw comparisons to some all-time greats.

"He has that rare speed where he can run by everybody but he has that power where he can run over you," Inscore said. "He can do both of those things. That makes him really dangerous. Running style? If you're looking for somebody he's like, for me he runs like Gale Sayers used to run."

Marshall will participate in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 5 in St. Petersburg, Fla., along with plenty of friends, namely defensive back Ronald Darby from Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac, athlete Todd Gurley from Tarboro (N.C.) High School and offensive lineman John Theus from Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles.

The Gurley relationship is interesting because it could affect Marshall's college decision. The two were planning an official visit to Virginia Tech before Gurley had to cancel.

"I wanted to go," Marshall said. "If Todd goes, I'm definitely going to go. My parents can't go with me so I'm not going to go alone. I definitely want to look at them."

Marshall has never officially named a list of finalists, but said he will only consider the schools where he has taken official visits and South Carolina and North Carolina, where he has visited frequently.

Marshall will take an official visit to Florida this weekend for the Alabama game. He has also taken an official visit to Georgia and visited Tennessee unofficially. The Bulldogs are certainly the most intriguing team in his recruitment. Many have suggested the 5-foot-10, 180-pound tailback would be a perfect complement alongside standout Bulldogs freshman Isaiah Crowell, who has a more powerful running style.

Crowell, however, won't be nearly as much of a factor in Marshall's recruitment as Georgia coach Mark Richt, who is thought to be on shaky ground in Athens.

"I've wanted to play for Georgia since I was a little kid," Marshall said. "I really like Coach Richt but I want to see what's going to be there. I know right now there is some real uncertainty. He's a real good guy so I want him to keep his job and everything. That would definitely play a part in my decision."

Marshall said he will take an official visit to Notre Dame on Oct. 22 and that he's undeterred by the Irish's 2-2 start or the criticism of coach Brian Kelly's intense berating of players on the sideline earlier this season. That intensity might actually be a positive for Marshall.

"That shows you he coaches with emotion and he really loves the game," Marshall said. "That's not a big deal. Of course you don't want someone screaming at you but that's going to make me play better because of my personality."

Alabama and USC are other schools under considering for an official visit.

He's also contemplating a bigger workload this season. Marshall went to Millbrook's coaches recently and suggested playing safety in order to help Millbrook's pass defense. It was a selfless move for a player who has his entire career in front of him.

"I'm fine with it," he said, "whatever will help the team."

Said Inscore, "He's a team-first kind of guy, whether he's getting 25 carries a game or 10 carries a game, whatever is going to help the team is what he wants to do. He's not wrapped up in stats. He knows he's already got all the accolades he can get and all the awards he can get. He doesn't care about that. He wants to win. Whatever it takes to win is what he'll do."

Inscore said he's looking at several options to shore up his defense. Playing Marshall on defense would certainly help but he also can't risk his star player to fatigue or injury.

"In order for us to be successful, he's got to be carrying the football for us for sure," Inscore said.

While Marshall might not be best suited to play both ways, his brother is. Marcus Marshall is already playing tailback, cornerback and special teams as a freshman for the junior varsity team. Like every little brother, he wants to best his older sibling -- but not necessarily on the football field.

"His goal is to beat Keith's G.P.A," Denice Marshall said. "So we'll see."

Forget that all-time rushing mark. 4.3 is the goal. Study hard, Marcus.

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.

Dave Hooker

Reporter, RecruitingNation