Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Football [Print without images]

Sunday, September 1, 2013
Updated: September 2, 5:05 PM ET
U-M recruit endures tragedies

By Tom VanHaaren
ESPN.com

Before he walked onto the field for the first game of his senior season, Lawrence Marshall made the sign of the cross twice across his chest then pointed to the sky.

With RIP written on his eye black, the Southfield (Mich.) High defensive end came onto the field and got into his three-point stance to take the first snap. His leg visibly shaking, fingers twitching.

The ball was snapped and Marshall, the No. 112 player in the ESPN 300 and a Michigan commit, was playing football for the first time without his father and grandfather in his life.

Lawrence Marshall
Michigan recruit Lawrence Marshall honored his father and grandfather, who both died this summer, when he took the field in on Friday.
Less than two months prior to his game, Marshall was at his uncle's house for a family cookout with his mother, while his father stayed at home. All was well until he received a phone call from his cousin, Aaron.

His father, Lawrence Sr., had been living with diabetes and suffered some setbacks, but Marshall didn't think it was serious. But on this day, Lawrence Sr.'s brothers tried to reach him repeatedly, with no luck. So they went to his house and found him unconscious. It was too late to do anything.

Although Aaron was out of town on business, the family wanted him to break the news to Marshall that his father had died, because they were so close. Beyond being a coach and friend, Aaron was like the big brother Marshall never had.

"That was the worst phone call I've ever had. The whole day I had been thinking about my dad for some reason, too," Marshall said.

And then he got the call.

While Aaron would have liked to talk to Marshall in person, to console him, in some ways he thinks it was better that he wasn't home. It gave him time alone to think and try to find peace.

Marshall had a great relationship with his father and says if it wasn't for him he likely wouldn't be playing football today. His father was the one who convinced him, at age 8, to put on the pads and try something new.

Marshall lost more than a father that day. Lawrence Sr. was also a close friend. Someone who coached him, drove him to football practice every day and someone he could confide in about life.

Football helped their relationship grow closer, but now Marshall is using football to help deal with his loss.

Being around his team, participating in tackling drills and focusing on his season have all helped release his pain and anger. His teammates have helped him cope, and the game has helped distract his mind from the reality that he lives in.

Cousin Aaron has been there as well, as a friend, as a brother and as a coach for Marshall's high school team. The two talk every day. He answers questions and gives Lawrence advice that his mother and sister just can't give.

Aaron knows how big football has been in this emotional time and has watched the sport that often causes pain become a pain reliever.

Lawrence Marshall
The football field has become a refuge for Lawrence Marshall in the wake of extreme personal tragedy.
"Football is the best thing since his dad passed. I've never seen him so happy as he was around his teammates," Aaron said. "That team is like his family, and when he's around them it's like the rest of the word takes a timeout and he's at home."

But that dedication was put to the test once again, just days before Southfield kicked off its 2013 season. The Sunday before his first game, Marshall received another devastating phone call.

This time it was his grandfather, who had been in and out of the hospital. At 5:30 in the morning, doctors told Marshall and his family to come and say their goodbyes.

His grandfather had suffered two heart attacks the day before and Marshall was in the room as his grandfather slipped away.

"When that happened, it was the saddest time in my life. I was in shock," he said.

So in that first game, Marshall took the field playing for the memory of two loved ones. In a back-and-forth contest against Detroit Cass Tech, he was moving forward with his life and entering a new chapter.

There was no storybook ending on this night, though, as Marshall's team lost, 18-14.

But Marshall was at peace. As the game ended, his mind turned to how he and his team could get better, a welcome change from what dominated his thoughts all summer.