AUBURN, ALA. — Wilcox County High School coach Mark Ledford understands that not every player ‘gets it’ right away.
“College ball, and the professional league too, is full of players that’s had second chances,” Ledford said. “Some have had more than that.”
That said, Ledford had some tough love for his former pupil, Nick Marshall, the day after being sent home to Pineview, Ga., for screwing up his shot as a defensive back at Georgia.
It was just before last year’s Super Bowl, just after last year’s Signing Day, and Marshall was excused from Mark Richt’s program along with two other Bulldogs for a violation of team rules. That was later reported to be theft of teammates’ cash from a dorm room.
“First, I wanted to find out that he was remorseful for what happened there, and he was honest,” Ledford said. “He’s been honest with everyone in this process.”
So Ledford demanded his former quarterback go back to the position in which he’d thrived at Wilcox County. And do it far, far away from home.
“When I left Georgia, I just wanted to start over,” Marshall said. “I wanted to try quarterback – turned out to be the right decision.”
Marshall went on to Garden City (Kan.) Community College, scoring 37 touchdowns – splitting the scores evenly with his active arm and his fleet feet.
“He had a tremendous year,” Ledford said. “It was maybe a chance to get his priorities in order, and give him a chance to come back and do what he’s always wanted to do.”
Now, Marshall gets that long-awaited second chance in the SEC, after officially signing his national letter of intent Wednesday morning to join the crowded quarterback derby in Auburn.
The Tigers also signed four-star preps Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith, while already returning eight combined 2012 starts in junior-to-be Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace. But the competition is wide open, and Marshall insisted “he’s playing quarterback, 100 percent” instead of automatically settling for a defensive back role.
“That (spread offense),” Marshall said, “is what I’m made for. “I think coming (out of Georgia) was the best move for me, so I could get out of there and have an open mind, and have a successful junior college season like I did.”
Marshall is already familiar with head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee from being recruited to Arkansas State last year, as well as new wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig when Marshall was a Florida State target out of high school.
“He’s a great athlete. He’s one of those impact players, throws the ball extremely well, has a very strong arm,” Malzahn said. “We feel like he can come in here and give us a chance right of the bat.”
Malzahn openly admitted he craved a crowd of quarterback candidates, since it’s his job to fix Auburn’s 116th-rated passing offense from last year.
Of course, that was in a pro-style system that meshed with Auburn’s particular personnel like ships mesh with storms. Malzahn prefers the hurry-up, no-huddle madness that helped Cam Newton lead the Tigers to the 2011 BCS National Championship with Malzahn as the offensive coordinator.
“As you’ve all seen in the past,” Malzahn said, “the dual threat type guys that can do a lot of different things, keep plays alive, can be very successful with what we do.”
Marshall’s ready to roll, after this long, strange road, granted a second chance in the nation’s most powerful college football conference – and first as a signalcaller.
“I think there have been players, such as Cam Newton, (Zach) Mettenberger, different kids who follow that route and have success,” Ledford said. “That’s the way the system works. Maybe when those kids make it back to a Division I program, maybe they’ve learned some lessons that they maybe need to learn, that they didn’t follow the first time around.”
Added Marshall, “I’m looking to go in and have a great season, compete for an SEC championship.”