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Marshall returns to Kansas as a star

AUBURN, Ala. -- The story of how Nick Marshall wound up at Auburn involves a coaching change, a certain phone call and a collection of handwritten notes, but it all started back in August 2012 with a scholarship offer from Arkansas State.

Marshall had found a new home in Kansas at Garden City Community College following his dismissal from the University of Georgia. Just a few months before Marshall's dismissal, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had found a new home, too, as the head coach at Arkansas State.

The first order of business for Malzahn was to find a quarterback, and it took all of one game before he extended a scholarship offer to Marshall, a converted defensive back. It was Marshall's first offer since arriving at junior college.

"You knew he was a very, very good quarterback in high school," Malzahn said. "That was one thing. And the fact that he fits into what we look for in a quarterback. Those were the two main factors."

Arkansas State wouldn't be Marshall's only suitor, though. Soon, he had offers from Baylor, Texas Tech, Indiana and Kansas State. They weren't necessarily the same schools that had recruited him out of high school in Pine View, Georgia, but he would be getting a second chance.

Of the schools that offered, Kansas State stuck out. It was only a few hours from Garden City, and head coach Bill Snyder had a track record with dual-threat quarterbacks like Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson.

"Nick was really excited about Kansas State," Garden City coach Matt Miller said. "[He] loved Coach Snyder, loved the offense. There were a lot of positives for Kansas State."

Some thought Marshall was leaning toward Kansas State, but in a 10-day span, that all changed.

The first domino fell when Malzahn was hired back at Auburn as the head coach on Dec. 4. He and his staff had already built a relationship with Marshall, and now they were at an SEC school that was much closer to where he grew up.

"He had obviously gotten offers that were going to keep us from getting him at Arkansas State, so we just relocated," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said.

Auburn now had Marshall's attention, though it took Malzahn nearly a month to offer a scholarship. At that time, Marshall wasn't the only junior college quarterback Snyder and his staff were pursuing. They had also extended an offer to Jake Waters, the nation's top pocket-passer.

Then, at the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 13, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein called Waters from New York City. Waters committed to the Wildcats two days later.

Sources say the phone call coupled with the commitment rubbed Marshall the wrong way, and it turned out to be the beginning of the end for Kansas State.

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In the coach's office at Wilcox County High School hangs a handwritten note from Bill Snyder to Mark Ledford. The two first met when Snyder flew to Marshall's hometown and spent time with his high school coach. Snyder followed up with the note the very next week.

"We talked about Nick, of course, and he loved Nick," Ledford said. "But then the conversation shifted to coaching in a small town, in a small school and what it meant. We talked about family. It really turned away from Nick, and we just talked about personal stuff and things like that. It just felt real genuine. We were in the gym office sitting there in regular, old chairs.

"When you meet him, you understand why it's called Bill Snyder Family Stadium."

On that same trip -- a trip that took place in January, after Waters had already committed -- Snyder also sat down with Marshall's mother and grandmother. They, too, received handwritten notes from Snyder the next week.

"By him making the trip to Rochelle, Georgia, where our high school is, and to Nick's hometown, it was clear he was serious about Nick playing for him," Ledford said.

It was clear Snyder really wanted Marshall. He didn't let up after Waters committed. He didn't let up after Auburn offered a scholarship. He stayed on Marshall all the way through signing day.

"If Coach Snyder could design a quarterback for his offense, the guy would look really, really similar to Nick Marshall," Miller said.

It was another visit, though, that made the difference for Marshall. This one came from Malzahn, Lashlee and the Auburn coaching staff on Jan. 13, two weeks after they offered. The day after the in-home visit, Marshall called Lashlee and said he was coming to Auburn.

"In the end, he's from down there, got family, knows Coach Malzahn, it was a perfect fit for him," Miller said.

Marshall might have been the perfect fit for Kansas State, but Auburn was the perfect fit for Marshall.

* * *

It has been more than a year and a half since Marshall signed with Auburn. All he has done in the time since then is lead the Tigers to an SEC championship and come within 13 seconds of winning the national title. Not bad for a former defensive back at Georgia.

As Auburn travels to Kansas State, Marshall returns to the state where he revived his career to face the program he came so close to attending.

Marshall still has fond memories of Snyder from the recruiting process.

"He's a great coach," Marshall said. "He's a nice guy, and he's a man to his word."

The result actually worked out for both schools. Marshall exceeded expectations his first year at Auburn, and Waters, who threw for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, performed well for Kansas State. Now both schools are undefeated and ranked in the top 20.

If you ask Marshall, he'll tell you it's just another game. "It don't mean anything to me," Marshall said. "I'm just going to play and get a win with my team." Miller, his junior college coach, isn't buying it.

"Nick's going to be ready for any game he plays," Miller said. "He's just that type of competitor, that type of kid. But I'm sure he has a little bit more excitement for this one just because the state of Kansas was really good to Nick.

"He did a lot of great things here, so I'm sure he's excited to come back to this state and show everybody what he's doing now."

Looking back, if not for that initial offer from Malzahn and Arkansas State, the landscape of this game could be vastly different.

"If Auburn hadn't given him that chance, there's a good chance Nick would be playing for Kansas State on Thursday night," Ledford said.