Recruitment rankings and early success can’t save a player from the cruel reality of injuries.
After a successful freshman season at Georgia, Keith Marshall found that out the hard way.
“It’s just part of life having to deal with setbacks,” said Marshall, a former Millbrook High star who was regarded as highly as NFL players Amari Cooper and Todd Gurley when each arrived in college in 2012. “I don’t regret anything. I think it’s been a really good process that’s helped me become a better person.”
That hit came more than once for Marshall, who said he learned how quickly he could lose the game at which he excelled for so long.
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He rushed for nearly 800 yards and eight touchdowns as a true freshman in tandem with Gurley, the star from Tarboro who already is in the NFL, but the years since haven’t been easy. He tore the ACL in his right knee in 2013 against Tennessee and reinjured his leg early last season. Before the Sept. 5 opener, when he ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns, Marshall’s last action came Sept. 20, 2014, against Troy. He ran five times for 14 yards.
“Last year, I tried to come back, (and) I wasn’t really ready,” Marshall said. “Probably shouldn’t have been out there.”
As he worked his way back to the field yet again, he took the necessary precautions to ensure a practice in April wouldn’t derail a potential touchdown in September. He sat out a portion of spring practice with a strained hamstring, though he said the injury wasn’t serious.
On Sept. 5, a healthy Marshall finally made his return to Sanford Stadium. Marshall’s output was reminiscent of his freshman year. Granted, the 7.3 yards-per-carry came against Louisiana Monroe. He ran just five times Sept. 12 against Vanderbilt as Georgia leaned on Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb but added another rushing touchdown last weekend in a romp against South Carolina. He knows the rotation will continue throughout SEC play.
But he’s healthy – Marshall said he’s finally 100 percent – and the former second-ranked running back prospect in the nation said he thinks he can still be among the best. And even with Chubb hoarding most of the carries for the Bulldogs, Marshall thinks there should be more than enough to go around.
“One thing I’ve never really focused on was who else we had,” Marshall said during preseason camp. “We’ve got more than just one good one, we’ve got three or four good ones.”
Marshall’s former Millbrook High School football coach, Clarence Inscore, said he’s seen flashes that suggest his old running back could be more than just good. Even as Marshall carved up Raleigh defenses, he did so with persisting tendinitis that left him able to play but in almost constant discomfort. If Marshall is truly at 100 percent, it would be the first time in years for the 5-foot-11, 212-pounder.
That’s partially why Inscore said he thinks Marshall’s potential remains relatively untapped.
“We saw glimpses of that his freshman year at Georgia,” Inscore said. “He could be an incredible back. … I don’t think we’ve seen his best football.”
Perhaps his best will arrive in Georgia’s final regular season of the game, an away matchup with in-state rival Georgia Tech. Marshall’s younger brother, Marcus, is a Millbrook alum and true freshman running back for the Yellow Jackets. In the opener against Alcorn State, Marcus rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
Their mother, Denice Marshall, will watch a half from each side of the field and cheer mainly for the offenses, but she won’t sit down. Though she’s a fan of the game, the threat of injury makes it difficult for her to enjoy the game. And so, the mother of the former highly touted Georgia running back and the new true freshman sensation at Georgia Tech will pace back and forth.
She’ll root for her sons, and she’ll root for their health.
It’s about time Keith Marshall gets a break.