- Feature Story
- George Becnel
- September 28, 2017 - 4:19pm
NEW ORLEANS - It was gut-check time for the Tulane football team late in the Green Wave’s game last Saturday afternoon versus Army at Yulman Stadium.
The Black Knights had just scored to take a 17-14 lead and Tulane had the ball at its own 25-yard line with 5:32 left in the game.
With the way Army controlled the clock in the second half with its relentless triple-option attack, the Green Wave knew it was embarking on its final possession of the game. There would be no punting since giving the ball to Army likely meant not getting it back.
Tulane’s defense wore down in the second half on a hot and humid late September afternoon as Army controlled the clock – including holding onto the football for 12:26 in the third quarter. The Green Wave surrendered the go-ahead touchdown to Army on a Conner Slomka 5-yard touchdown run with less than six minutes left in the game.
Although Tulane finally allowed Army to take the lead, a pair of Green Wave linebackers had done their part. Rae Juan Marbley had 13 tackles in the game and Luke Jackson eight but all the duo could do was watch on the sideline as the Green Wave offense gave it one last shot.
Tulane faced fourth down three times on the final drive, converting the first two before facing fourth-and-1 from the Army 6-yard line. Instead of going for a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime, the Green Wave elected to try and convert once again. A 2-yard run by running back Dontrell Hilliard gave Tulane a first down with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game. Quarterback Jonathan Banks scored from 4-yards out one play later with 23 seconds left to give the Green Wave a 21-17 triumph to even its record at 2-2.
Some around the Tulane program were calling the victory a ‘signature win’ or a ‘program win.’
“I definitely think it was a big program win. The offense came and played and the defense came and played. It was just a nice team win to have,” Marbley said.
“I guess you could call it a signature win because two weeks ago against Navy we were in a similar situation and couldn’t close out and finish the game. Army, it’s pretty much the same team (in terms of running the triple option), and we were able to close out and finish it and the offense put a drive together and scored in the last few minutes,” said Jackson, referring to Tulane’s 23-21 loss two weeks earlier.
Over the years, Tulane has had moments where it appeared the Greenies were on the verge of turning the program but ultimately taking a step backward.
As a pair of seniors, Marbley and Jackson are facing their last chance to make a mark on the Tulane program.
A win over Army may not seem like an eye-opening event at most programs but for Tulane to defeat a team that won eight games the previous year and went to a bowl game, the sentiment is that the Green Wave might not have won such a contest a year ago under then first-year coach Willie Fritz.
“I think the program is definitely going to where it needs to be. The first year Coach Fritz was getting used to us and now we know what to expect from each other and what our coaches and players each bring to the table. I think this is definitely something we can build on as a program to be successful for this season,” Marbley said.
Marbley and Jackson represent numerous former River Parish high school football players who are having an impact on the next level. Marbley starred at Destrehan and Jackson at St. Charles Catholic.
The final trek down the field for the Tulane offense against Army for a gut-check win could be analogous to the careers of Marbley and Jackson. Both players were high schools stars who had to wait their turn before getting their chance to make an impact.
“I believe in just trusting the process. There have been a lot of guys that have waited their turn and came out and did what they needed to do. When you have a moment, you should just take advantage of that moment and that’s what I’m trying to do now and do whatever I can to be the best,” said Marbley, whose 13 tackles against Army give him a team-high total of 33 tackles through four games.
“He was behind Nico (Marley) and Eric Thomas last year. He got to play in a few games but never really was a starter until this year. He’s waited his turn and he’s playing some great football right now. He’s had some awesome games,” Jackson said of Marbley.
Marbley’s journey is fairly typical of a former high school start having to bide his team while vying with college teammates before finally earning a starting stop and making the most of it.
It was a bit different for Jackson. Not only was he vying with teammates for playing time, he had to endure another battle – with cancer.
“I was diagnosed my redshirt freshman year. It was November of 2013. It was testicular cancer. They removed the testicle that November and then I had to go through chemo treatments and then I had another pretty big surgery where they removed some lymph nodes in my abdomen that following April in 2014. I was cancer free after that,” said Jackson.
Coming out of high school, Jackson was a 6-foot-2, 210-pound defensive end. He reached 235 pounds before falling down to 199 because of cancer and the lymph nodes surgery. He is now back at 235 pounds and is playing linebacker after Tulane switched defensive schemes.
“I was playing more defensive end in our old scheme in the 4-3,” said Jackson. “Now, it’s a 3-4 so I was kind of playing some outside linebacker and now I’m playing more inside.
“When I lost all that weight when I was sick I played some linebacker a little while because I was so light. That was never really a real thing. I played some (strong-side) linebacker last year and that kind of transitioned to me playing more this year because I think it fit more my body type and it was the best spot for me to get on the field.”
Marbley and Jackson have gone from River Parish high school football opponents to being teammates and close friends – so close that they have a tendency to sit next to one another on the bench when they take a quick break after coming off the field.
“It’s definitely fun having Rae Juan around. We’re always taking and messing around. Rae Juan is a good guy,” said Jackson.
“We always like going tit for tat. I like coming to the sideline and he says, ‘alright, Rae, that’s one tackle for me,’ and then I’m like, ‘OK, Luke, I got you,’ and I’ll follow up. I like keeping that camaraderie and competitiveness between us,” Marbley said.
Playing high school football in the River Parishes, the players agree, helped prepare them to play on the next level.
“Playing for Coach (Frank) Monica and Coach Wayne (Stein), the defensive coordinator, I thought they did a good job of preparing me for knowing football and just the good competition. I think the River Parishes is a great area to come from,” said Jackson.
“I think Coach Robe (Destrehan’s Stephen Robicheaux) did a good job of teaching us discipline and doing the right things that we need to do. Making the transition from high school to college, I feel a lot of guys have a lot of issues there, maintaining things and getting their lives together. He did a good job of just getting us ready for college and transition that discipline. Just simple stuff like not having earrings on in the meeting room – which we did at Destrehan and we do here – stuff like that, I’m already used to,” Marbley said.
Marbley and Jackson represent what college seniors on a football program should be all about, according to Fritz.
“They are two seniors who are great kids. They both have their degrees. You hope seniors rise to the occasion and play better than they’ve ever played before and they are both playing much better than they did last season. They come to work every day and are always enthusiastic and positive,” the Tulane coach said.
Although Marbley said he likes the competitiveness between himself and Jackson, there was no bet on the line like having to wear the opposing team’s t-shirt when St. Charles and Destrehan faced each other a few weeks ago in a game won by the Comets 24-8.
“I should have done something like that,” Jackson laughed. “At the same time, I didn’t think St. Charles would beat Destrehan the way they did. I should have messed with him more about it. I definitely messed with him about it for a few days.”
“We knew they were paying and we got to bed early that Friday night,” recalled Marbley. “The next morning, he texted me, ‘did you see the score?’ I went to Facebook and I was like, ‘awe, man.’”