Few players have had the kind of turnaround in the last year that Corey Marshall has had. After taking a leave from the Virginia Tech team for "personal reasons" last summer before returning to redshirt in 2013, the versatile defensive lineman worked his way back into the coaching staff's good graces, earning the Hokies' defensive MVP honors this spring.
Looking to build off his strong recent run, and looking to add more weight, the redshirt junior has a chance to be the next in line on a defensive front that has annually been among the best in the ACC.
ESPN.com caught up with Marshall to talk about his changes.
What did it mean to be named defensive MVP this spring?
Corey Marshall: That's another milestone I'm happy to accomplish. The big thing with this defense is replacing parts, and when you can be viewed for a period as the MVP on a defensive spot where there's going to be a lot of overall (talent), I think it's a big deal that people think you can be a catalyst at that position. I was just happy to get that recognition.
What worked for you this spring? What did you improve on? What were your goals?
CM: I think it was a culmination of things. I think most importantly it was getting bigger, stronger, faster. The old clichés. Grinding, staying at it. But most importantly it was just getting back in shape. That was the biggest thing. And I always knew I could play -- it was just getting that light switch to flip on. And there's a track record of guys here. They tell you all the time -- some of the older guys, James Gayle, now an NFL player, some of the other guys -- it's just a maturation process you go through. And I'm at those waning stages where you really start to pick up your game and elevate your play. So it's just nice seeing all that stuff come together.
You mentioned the light clicking on. How do you think that happens? I know it doesn't come overnight.
CM: Just repetition and muscle memory. Finally clicking. I think the biggest challenge for most guys coming out of high school is just the drastic change in talent; everybody's talented. You can't just coast on your raw ability; you have to be professional and go about it every day and improve at your craft. And I think that was where I just elevated off the field, was just doing extra work. Really getting that drive and that inner (focus) back. I think I got complacent once I got here, and that kind of left me in limbo. Once I got refocused I was able to do the things I know I'm capable of doing.
What do you like playing better: end or tackle?
CM: I think I'm a defensive weapon, honestly. However (defensive line) Coach (Charley) Wiles sees fit to use me, that's how I'm going to go about it, approach it. You've got to be a team guy. You have to have those elements. But I think what I really respect (about) him and (defensive coordinator) Bud Foster is they really know how to exploit talent. They understand I have that type of natural defensive end body and they let me rush in those pass-rush packages, those 30 packages, and let me exploit that on the outside, to get after the quarterback a little after I do the dirty work inside. So it's just keep on (building) that relationship and understanding that if you do your job every day, they're going to look out for you.
How important is it to you to help carry on the standard this defense has set over the years?
CM: It's massively important. It's the lunch-pail mentality. I think we all come to the conclusion that you've got to be blue-collar guys. You can't be about yourself. You've got to play within the Xs and Os, and I think where we excel, Bud Foster over his tenure here, is that he had guys that could play outside of the Xs and Os. After they completed their assignments, they went above and beyond. And to be a championship-caliber defense like we were last year, we have to have 11 souls with that mentality that, "I'm going to make the play. I'm going to change momentum in our favor when things get out of whack and adversity hits." And I think we've got a lot of guys with that mentality. I think we've got a chance to do something special.
What did you get out of redshirting? How are you better off for it in the long term?
CM: I think the wear-and-tear aspect of it is really underrated. I got, I think, about three months there where there was just no beating, there was no grinding, there was no wearing or lasting effects on me, and I was just able to get healthy in all aspects -- the little nicks and knacks that come along with the business. So I was able to get back right in that aspect, and that really just let me attack everything just (at) 100 miles an hour, and I really got better from that aspect. But I've been in this defense three years, so mentally it was just picking up where I left off and playing fast. I think that's what the coaches will tell you if you ask them -- just the intensity I came with every play. And that's just being a product of the system and understanding where you can excel and understanding how to read blocks. I think I got smarter in the nuances of the game.
Were there times last year where you would see something happen on the field and think you could've been there to help?
CM: There were a lot of sleepless nights watching those games, not being able to help your brothers. I kind of equate it to your brother getting in a fight and you're on the other side of the fence and you can't do anything about it. It kind of eats at you as a competitor. I think that UCLA game was kind of the culmination of that. There were a lot of plays where I think if I'm out there, we can turn those around and get stops and put our offense in a position to try to generate some plays to kind of shift the momentum. Because you saw it get away from us. We came out, had a couple competitive series, and as the game wore on -- as a defense it's bend-but-don't-break, but if you're out there all game you're going to break eventually. So just working on that and staying focused.
What does it mean to have the kind of turnaround you've had get noticed by the coaching staff publicly? Is that a sense of personal validation?
CM: It is, because I've had a lot of trials and tribulations, and I didn't want to have those situations be a blanket or an indictment on my character. I think at certain points you develop bad habits when you get complacent, and that's what I kind of fell into freshman year. And at a certain point if you know better, you do better. And I'm kind of at that point in my development where just maturity-wise I've taken a couple steps -- leaps and bounds from where I was Day 1. I know how to handle people and situations, and just as a man understanding that things aren't going to go your way but you need to fight through them, you need to keep your head up. All that just goes back into being a professional. Once you do some of those things, you get to reap the benefits. I didn't come here, work 17 years of my life for it to all fall away at the end. I take pride in being one of the best guys out there. I was blessed to play this game and I want to play it to the best of my abilities.
What do you see as the ceiling for you personally now?
CM: For a lot of guys, if you're not Jadeveon Clowney, people project your ceiling to be a lot shorter. But I think one of the benefits of not being just crazy royal gifted like that is that you continually get to shape your game and be very polished, as opposed to some of these others guys that don't take the fundamentals as seriously. You can really be an elite player because you do all the little things that build up to what you see on Saturdays or Fridays or whatever the case may be if you go out to play. So I think my ceiling is pretty high. I don't think I've touched it yet. I think once I put this weight on, in the season the double-teams will come even easier. Because a lot of guys will tell you I don't play like I'm 250. I play like I'm 270 already, so once I get that added weight on, there's a chance to be very, very disruptive, and that's something I look forward to getting to.
Is that a goal for you, to get to about 270?
CM: Yeah, to get to 270. We just started this offseason program. I've gained about five to seven pounds back on. So I'm right on course to be there sometime around the summer, so I'm not too concerned about it. But it's just getting bigger, faster, stronger.
And you were about 250 coming into offseason conditioning?
CM: I was about 247. I'm up to like 255 now, and it's still coming on easy, so I see that. But the biggest thing is it's not fat. You're putting on good weight that's going to help you be explosive and help you be fast and be strong out there.