Unusual path leads QB Marshall to Auburn

After a long and winding road, Nick Marshall is a quarterback in the SEC. Courtesy of Garden City Community College

The legend of Nick Marshall started back in 2009.

In the Georgia Class A state championship game that year, Marshall accounted for all but eight of his school’s 339 total yards. The sophomore quarterback finished 14 of 22 with 244 yards through the air and rushed for another 87. He scored three touchdowns and helped lead Wilcox County to its first state title in program history.

Less than three months later, Marshall put on another spectacular performance, but this time it was on the basketball court. He scored a school-record 52 points, including 24 in the third quarter alone, to push Wilcox Couny on to the next round of the playoffs.

“He's as athletically blessed an athlete as I've ever coached,” Marshall’s high school football coach Mark Ledford said. “He has tremendous arm strength, and he can run just as well as he throws. He can make things happen with his arm and his feet.

“He brought a lot of excitement to our community, on the field and on the basketball court, where he was equally impressive. He was one that people not just in our county would come to see, but folks in surrounding counties would come to see some of the things that he could do.”

Ironically, it was the basketball background that led him to where he is today.

In the spring of 2010, Marshall thought basketball was the only sport he wanted to play at the next level. He had plenty of Division I interest on the hardwood, including a couple of offers, and that was the direction he thought he wanted to go. As a quarterback in football, he didn't think he could play another sport. There was too much responsibility. But what about another position?

That same spring, Marshall continued his football career, but he started to pick up interest as a defensive back. He received offers from Alabama, Clemson and Georgia Tech -- all three with the intention of putting him on defense.

That piqued Georgia’s interest. Mark Richt and his staff already had a commitment from ESPN 150 quarterback Christian LeMay, and they only planned to take one in that class. But with Marshall willing to play defensive back, it was a no-brainer.

“One of the coaches at Georgia said Nick Marshall is the only athlete he'd ever seen that can play five positions in the NFL,” said a fellow coach.

Georgia offered him a scholarship to play defensive back, and Marshall accepted it. Because he wasn’t playing quarterback, he felt like he could walk on to the basketball team as well, but that never happened. He only played football. After just one season with the Bulldogs, he was dismissed from the team.

It was a troubling end to his time at Georgia, but it wasn’t the end for Marshall. He ended up at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, where he was offered the opportunity to move back to his natural position of quarterback.

“It was a mutual decision,” Garden City offensive coordinator Matt Miller said. “Nick obviously set some Georgia state records as a high schooler as a quarterback. He did his time as a defensive back at Georgia and realized he wanted to play quarterback. And that's what Nick Marshall is. He's a quarterback.”

In his lone season at Garden City, Marshall finished with 3,142 yards passing, 1,095 yards rushing and 37 total touchdowns. He was comfortable again. He wasn’t playing a new position. He wasn’t worried about basketball. He was a quarterback again.

“I realized that when I went out to Kansas at Garden City,” Marshall said. “I was rusty the first week, but then I got into my groove, and I knew then and there, it was my position.”

On Saturday, Marshall will take the next step of his journey. He’ll start at quarterback for Auburn University in its season opener against Washington State.

After signing with the Tigers last February, he arrived on campus over the summer and went on to win the starting quarterback job. It’s a perfect situation and a perfect fit with new head coach Gus Malzahn.

“I think he could not be at a better place right now,” Ledford said. “For him to come out and play quarterback somewhere, it's going to take a coaching staff that's going to let Nick be Nick. They have to utilize the talents that he has within in their system. I think Coach Malzahn's offense is a perfect fit for him.

“I trust the coaching. I trust Coach Malzahn and Coach [Rhett] Lashlee in having him prepared and ready to go this Saturday.”