This story appears in the Oct. 31, 2011, issue of ESPN The Magazine.
KEITH MARSHALL KNOWS HE'S TOUGH to catch. Stopwatches tell him so on the regular. The Millbrook High senior tailback has been clocked at 4.25 seconds in the 40, speed that's allowed him to make a career of evading defenders all over North Carolina gridirons. Those jets have also vaulted him to the second ranking among running backs in the ESPNU 150.
"Keith never settles for good," says Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore. "He's not just happy being the starter here. He wants to be better than everybody."
Earlier this season, Marshall achieved a measure of immortality when he became Millbrook's career rushing leader, blowing past the old mark of 3,184 yards. Through Oct. 7, he was only 143 yards shy of 4,000, with three games remaining. That milestone seemed as if it would be a speed bump, even though Marshall is the focus of every D he faces. (That's what happens when you gain 74 percent of your team's rushing yards.) But with Millbrook a long shot for a conference title, he'd gladly exchange a few hundred yards for a few more wins. "I don't like losing," Marshall says. "I'm always looking to be the hardest worker out there. My dad taught me to perform at a higher level than other kids, so my expectations are high."
The advice resonates because it comes from a man who once cracked 4,000 himself. Warren Marshall starred at James Madison University in the mid-'80s, and his 4,168 career rushing yards still tops the JMU charts. The knowledge he has handed down helped his son from the outset of Pop Warner ball. "Because of my background, we would stress running north to south, not in circles," says the elder Marshall. "Obviously, when Keith started playing at the age of 7, most kids don't understand cutbacks. For whatever reason, Keith picked that up very well and was able
to make moves too."
As the years went by, Marshall became faster, stronger and smarter -- and far more competitive. He's the defending state champ at 100 meters. In the weight room, he pushes his 5'11", 190-pound frame in a way that Inscore says has become contagious among his teammates, and he caps every day with 200 pushups before bed.
Marshall will graduate in December with an A average and plans to enroll in college early. As of mid-October he had narrowed his list of 32 scholarship offers to 12, but his busy schedule and shortened recruiting season likely will limit him to making just four of his five official visits. He's already been to Florida and Georgia, and he will be at Notre Dame to watch the Irish against USC on Oct. 22.
That will leave just one more visit up for grabs and a line of recruiters realizing just how tough it is to catch Keith Marshall.