Mean ol' Cassius Marsh brings new attitude

Cassius Marsh Peter Yoon for ESPNLA.com

LOS ANGELES -- It's been an awfully quiet spring for Cassius Marsh, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It's actually a very good thing in some eyes.

UCLA's spring camp has been littered with a dust-up here, a fracas there as well as skirmishes and a near brawl, but Marsh has not been involved in any.

A year ago, Marsh seemed to be in the middle of all of them. A 6-4, 295-pound defensive lineman with a mean streak, Marsh frequently found himself pushing and shoving after the whistle whenever he was on the field.

This spring? Not a peep. You'd be hard-pressed to find a play this spring in which Marsh didn't stop playing when the whistle blew, let alone find one where he was involved in extracurricular activity. It's the new Cassius Marsh, he said.

"As a man, I recognize that I made a lot of mistakes last year and I’m not willing to make those mistakes again," Marsh said. "I’m trying to develop not only as a player, but also as a man and as a teammate. I need to be a leader for these guys because I’m not a young guy any more. I don’t have that excuse any more."

The lowlight of Marsh's season came at Arizona when Marsh got in the middle of the on-field brawl at Arizona and replays showed him swinging his helmet at Wildcats players. The Pac-12 suspended 10 players for their actions in that benches-clearing brawl, but Marsh drew a two-game suspension--the most severe penalty of all.

Last spring, Marsh foreshadowed that nasty side when he got entangled in a shoving match then slammed his helmet to the ground, stripped off his shoulder pads and made a big production of walking off the field in the middle of practice.

This spring, Marsh's production has come in full uniform. He's among the first to arrive at practice and is regularly first in line for drills. He's leading by example and trying to leave his turbulent past behind.

"I try to just listen and be the best example I can for the rest of these guys," Marsh said. "I’m not going to cause scenes like I might have in the past. It’s football and things will happen and you just have to learn to get over that and not worry about it. After the whistle blows, it’s the next play. Don’t worry about the last one."

Defensive line coach Angus McClure, the only full-time coach remaining on staff from last season, said he has been quite impressed with the new attitude Marsh brought to camp.

"He’s matured quite a bit," McClure said. "He’s quietly become one of our leaders. He’s a real lead by example guy and it's been great to see."

Marsh came to UCLA as one of the top-ranked high school defensive linemen in the nation. As a senior at Oaks Christian, he played in the U.S. Army All-American game and had top-10 positional rankings from several major recruiting websites.

He's gotten plenty of playing time at UCLA, with 23 appearances and 12 starts over the last two years and while he's shown flashes of his ability, he has yet to fully develop into the consistently dominant player many projected him to be.

After his freshman season, defensive line coach Todd Howard was fired and Marsh wasn't pleased with that decision. He became increasingly frustrated when last season began and the team -- especially the defense -- wasn't playing well.

It boiled over in Arizona and Marsh said he considered transferring after last season because he felt he needed a fresh start. New coach Jim Mora offered that fresh start at UCLA.

Mora brought in a new defensive coordinator and moved McClure to defensive line coach, so Marsh decided to stick it out after hearing what the new brass had to say.

"When coach Mora came in, he explained that everyone is starting over and the past is the past," McClure said. "He really realized that he had a fresh start and he’s taken advantage of that."

And with a fresh start came a brand new attitude -- one that includes trying to steer teammates away from the path he traveled last season.

"If I see a young guy making a mistake that I might have made in the past, I’ll talk to him and try to let him know that it’s not worth it," Marsh said. "It’s not worth the trouble. If I see my teammates going at it, I’m going to go out there and try to break it up because we’re trying to get better and that’s just taking away from that goal."

Mostly, though, Marsh is a quiet leader. He prefers to let his actions speak and the coaches are taking note. With his experience, he's an important part of the UCLA puzzle this season and with a renewed focus and a refreshed attitude, he could be a major difference maker.

"I feel that this team could be great and I want to help it be great however I can," Marsh said. "The coaches come with such a good energy and they never let you come out here without working hard. I recognize that and appreciate that and I’m trying to come out here and get better every day."

"I want to be one of the guys that they don't have to talk to every day."

A nice, quiet spring, indeed.