Jackie Marshall’s decision to verbally commit to Baylor University last Saturday seemed to be a rather quick payoff after what had been a long journey
“This (past) year was really my first year of playing varsity football. I put a lot of work to get where I’m at. It was a long journey. It was tough. I had to adapt to a lot of things, but it was worth it,” the East St. John defender said.
Marshall put in a lot of work on the football field his junior season to put him in a position to get noticed by Power Five recruiters and ultimately get an offer from Baylor.
That turned out to be the quick payoff. The long journey went back two years earlier as Marshall, a freshman transfer from Bonnabel, was far from the playing field.
“Jackie had a little difficult situation when I first came here. He was actually ruled academically ineligible. I didn’t know. I had just taken the job. I saw a young man in the hallway and I was like, ‘hey, why are you not playing football?’” recalled East St. John football coach Brandon Brown.
Marshall informed Brown that he was ineligible.
He told me, ‘Coach (Alden) Foster kind of told me on his way out that I wouldn’t be eligible for the new coach,’” said Brown, referring to his predecessor at Wildcats coach.
After looking into the matter, Brown confirmed Marshall was academically ineligible – but the new coach had a proposition for the young student.
“I told him, ‘listen, if you help me help you by taking care of all your business academically, I will help you on the field.’ So that’s what he did,” said Brown.
It all began with Marshall just being allowed to be around the football team.
“We got him in athletic P.E. and he was able to be around the team,” Brown remembered. “He would lift with us and condition with us.
“What I saw about him every day, I saw steady improvement. He showed a level of commitment. Jackie didn’t miss a day. He was kind of like our ball boy. He would hold our chains. He would do anything just to be around the program.”
Marshall used to time to get academically eligible while so getting bigger, stronger, and faster.
“The fact that he knew he didn’t have a shot of touching the field and still showed up every day just to be here, I’m like, ‘OK, he’s going to be a great one, one day,’ said Brown.
That “one day” came rather quickly as Marshall seemed to take the football field by storm as a defensive end.
“The most impressive thing about Jackie Marshall is his dedication. He showed a level of commitment I hadn’t seen in any kid – a kid that’s 15, 16 years old and has no chance of playing – and showed up every day just to be around the program. I just meant a lot to me that he showed such commitment to the program,” Brown said.
After an eye-catching junior season, Marshall started to garner the attention of college recruiters.
Among those in pursuit were LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Tiger defensive assistant D.J. Johnson.
“They did a really good job of building that relationship with him,” Brown said.
“I had been talking to LSU since last year but I never got an offer,” said Marshall.
Aranda parlayed LSU’s national championship season into the head job at Baylor and took Johnson along with him to the Big XII school.
The two continued to pursue Marshall, who narrowed his choices down to Oklahoma State and Baylor before he opted to commit to the Waco, Texas, school.
“He had several offers and he started taking it upon himself to do research on different teams, different depth charts. My defensive line coach, Coach (Lesley) Deamer, he’s been with Jackie and he sort of handles a lot of our recruiting and they were looking at schools, at programs, and what they had to offer. Jackie’s mom was very involved, as well,” said Brown.
“One of the reasons is the coach’s background,” Marshall said of choosing Baylor. “Coach Aranda has a great history with linebackers. He takes good players and sends them to the (National Football) League.”
Marshall decided to verbally commit now, rather than later.
“I felt it was time. I felt it was time in my recruitment. I talked to my mom and my family and it was just a good time to do it,” Marshall said of his July 4 commitment.
“With the uncertainty of COVID-19, I think it was probably a good move for him at this point to just kind of get something locked in,” said Brown.
Now 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Baylor projects Marshall as a linebacker.
“They really want to play me in space,” Marshall said. “They told me I could play off the edge or I could play inside. There are a lot of things they want to do with me.”
At linebacker, Marshall will have coverage responsibilities.
“There are a few things I need to work on but I feel like I can get there,” said Marshall.
He will get the chance to play linebacker his senior year at East St. John.
“A lot of colleges were looking at Jackie to play linebacker,” said Brow. “In a perfect world, that’s where he would have been a linebacker for us. But in high school, you have to take what you have. We feel like we had some really good kids that were good enough to be good high school linebackers and we were kind of hurting at defensive end position and made the move to put him there.
“This year, three years into the program, we have developed more depth. More kids understand our system and what we are trying to do. We have an opportunity now to kind of move him around. He will play some end and he will play some ’backer. Jackie, you can put him anywhere on the field. He understands football.”
Brown said Marshall likely will see some playing time on offense as well at running back and tight end.
In short order, Marshall has gone from not knowing if he would ever get on a football field to possibly playing four positions on two sides of the ball his senior season and then off to the Big XII.
“It surprised me a lot. Going into this, I didn’t think all this would happen,” Marshall said.