COLUMBUS, Ohio — After waiting more than a year for it, Urban Meyer finally received a national letter of intent from Jalin Marshall. And once he did on a cold February morning in 2013, the Ohio State head coach didn't sell the Middletown, Ohio, star short.
"Jalin Marshall is a young man that if he was a guy that wanted to play the game and wait until signing day to put the eight hats out there, he could have whatever many amounts of hats he wanted," Meyer said of the 4-star prospect who committed to the Buckeyes in January of 2012. "I would rather recruits do it the way he did it, but can you imagine Ohio State University and the state of Ohio and Buckeye Nation if he would have waited and put on a hat?
"That would have been a great day. Because we think he's certainly if not the best player in Ohio, one of them."
Upon arriving on campus six months later, a preseason concussion and standard freshman struggles would delay Marshall's ability to make good on Meyer's promise. But through the first nine games of his redshirt freshman season, the 5'11", 205-pounder has proved to be well worth the wait.
Helping eighth-ranked Ohio State reenter the race for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff, Marshall has proved to be one of Meyer and the Buckeyes' most reliable weapons. Ranking fourth on the team in receiving with 14 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns as well as fifth in rushing with 107 yards and one score on 17 carries while also returning punts, Marshall seems to have done a little bit of everything for Ohio State, and his responsibilities are only growing.
In fact, you may have noticed that I'm yet to have listed a position for Marshall here. His role(s) on the Buckeyes makes it difficult to do so.
Ohio State's official roster pegs Marshall as an H-back, Meyer's preferred name for the wide receiver/running back hybrid position that Percy Harvin made famous in the spread offense at Florida. But even the versatility that spot entails doesn't do enough justice in describing all that Marshall is capable of.
With Braxton Miller on the shelf with a torn labrum and true freshman Stephen Collier being saved for a redshirt, Marshall has managed to also take on the role of Ohio State's third-string quarterback. That's not exactly a foreign position for him, either, as he first made a name for himself as a running quarterback during his storied prep career in Southwest Ohio.
"That's right where he should have played," Meyer asserted. "He was the best player on that team."
Accumulating 2,641 total yards and 26 touchdowns in his junior season, Marshall found so much success as a quarterback that the likes of Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and UCLA each offered him a scholarship to come play the position at their schools. But none were able to overcome the pull of Meyer and Ohio State, where Marshall knew that a position switch was likely. Yet that still hasn't prevented him from lining up from behind center.
As Meyer and Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman have continued to implement their hurry-up offense, Marshall has been used as one of the unit's most important interchangeable pieces. With the ability to line up at wide receiver, running back and, yes, quarterback, Ohio State has used Marshall as its Wildcat signal-caller, taking direct snaps against often unprepared opponents.
"The Wildcat's legitimate, especially at tempo," Meyer said on Monday. "We have a couple of passes ready for him, too."
Marshall has actually already attempted one on the season, letting an incompletion fly in the Buckeyes' Nov. 1 win over Illinois. And while his one pass attempt thus far in his college career was ultimately unsuccessful, don't be surprised if more are in his future—and not just because Meyer said so.
As explained by Heisman.com's Chris Huston, the future of football could very well be players like Marshall, ones capable of running, catching and throwing. In a pair of tweets following Ohio State's win over Michigan State, Huston was actually referencing Miller but might as well have been talking about Marshall as he explained his vision for a new age of offense.
Meyer doesn't seem to disagree with that notion, stating that when it comes to recruiting, versatility is a priority.
"We put the [all-points bulletin] out every year for the multidimensional athlete on offense," Meyer said. "That's the tight end 'H,' and it's the tailback 'H.' And just over the years, that position has evolved. You like moving those checkers around when you can have guys that can take direct snaps."
Marshall certainly seems to fit that mold—and then some—possessing the ability to line up at any skill position on the OSU offense while also taking on special teams duties. As a threat to throw, it's fun to think about what the Buckeyes offense could potentially look like next season with Marshall and potentially Miller lining up alongside current OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett.
And while such formations may be nothing more than fan fantasies at a school like Ohio State, don't expect players with skill sets like Marshall's to stop showing up in Columbus anytime soon. Asked by B/R on Wednesday about his status as one of college football's more cutting-edge players, Marshall didn't shy away from being labeled one of the prototypes of the future of the sport.
"Hopefully, it could be," Marshall said. "I definitely don't want to be deactivated from that role in this offense. I enjoy that, and I feel like it helps us out a little bit, and the role's expanding more and more each week. I feel like it's great for me and great for the team."
That's exactly what Meyer was envisioning when he raved about Marshall's potential on national signing day two years ago. And fortunately for him and the Buckeyes, the wait is finally over.
The future is now.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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It was in the end of his second grade year when Tony Jones Jr. reached a crossroads in his life.
He was already on the path to follow in the footsteps of his father Tony Sr.—who was a standout athlete who played eight years of professional football.
However, he wasn’t as stimulated in the classroom as he was when he was out hitting home runs and scoring touchdowns as a rising two-sport athlete.
At the time, Tony Sr. was coaching his son in both baseball and football when he received a call from one of his son’s teachers. She told him that she was afraid that he wouldn’t pass the FCAT to advance to third grade because of his lack of motivation.
The teacher knew that Tony Sr. coached his son, so she asked him what he did to motivate his son athletically.
At that point, he took Tony Jr. outside to talk. Though his son feared a scolding, he was instead taught an invaluable lesson that would shape his life moving forward.
Knowing that his son was extremely competitive as a standout young athlete, Tony Sr. asked him why he failed to compete in the classroom.
“My message was, yeah, you can win in here too,” Tony Sr. told Bleacher Report. “You can be the first one to get an A. You can be the first one to finish an assignment. You can be the first one to answer a question. If you are going to be competitive, be competitive all-around at everything you do.’”
That one moment of dialogue between father and son sparked a complete transformation in young Tony’s habits in the classroom.
“Since then, my kid has made honor roll every semester since that conversation,” Tony Sr. proudly exclaimed.
Almost a decade later, Tony Jr. is the first student-athlete to ever play both baseball and football at the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
He doubles as a star outfielder—who hit .359 this season for the Ascenders in baseball—and as the leading rusher on a loaded football squad that finished 9-1 and ranked No. 21 in the MaxPreps Top 25 poll.
As his achievements keep piling up in both sports, he’s still continued to get it done in the classroom. But does he plan to follow in the footsteps of noted two-sport standouts such as Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Jameis Winston?
After their son spent the first two years of his prep career at Catholic High School in nearby St. Petersburg, Tony's parents (Tony Sr. and Natalie) made the decision to enroll Tony Jr. at IMG.
Despite Tony Jr. rushing for more than 1,000 yards in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Tony Sr. felt that his son needed to go to a place where he had stiff competition for playing time.
“I want him to feel that pressure just like he would when he gets to college,” Tony Sr. said.
However, there was still a matter of convincing the coaches at IMG—a school that has never had an athlete play both football and baseball—to let him play two sports.
“When I first came here to visit, my mom told me to make sure to tell them (about playing two sports) the first time I saw them,” Tony Jr. said.
In January, a meeting was arranged with Tony Jr., his parents, IMG administrators and the coaches of the football and baseball programs.
Given the unique circumstances surrounding his arrival to the program, he was dealt a lucky stroke of good fortune in his quest to play two sports.
IMG head coach Chris Weinke—the former Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback at Florida State who spent six years playing minor league baseball before arriving in Tallahassee for college—is one of the few coaches who can understand Tony’s plight.
“I think very few guys get the opportunity to play two sports,” Weinke said. “He has the ability to be able to play two sports. My only advice to him is to have fun doing it. I’m a firm believer that you have to enjoy playing the game. The more you enjoy it, the harder you are going to work.”
Weinke knows the grind of trying to succeed in two sports, especially at a school such as IMG that has traditionally focused on training and developing athletes in one sport in the past.
“It hasn’t necessarily been done in the past here, but that’s OK,” Weinke said. “When the rare student-athlete comes along [who] can do both, we encourage it here, actually. We just haven’t necessarily had guys that wanted to do it here in the past.”
That doesn’t mean it’s something that comes easily. Weinke has praised Tony Jr. as “one of the hardest workers on the team.” A quick glance at his daily routine in football is proof of his proclamation.
The only change in his schedule comes during baseball season, when Tony will join the baseball team after lunch—which means that his level of dedication to two sports takes a lot of sacrifice and commitment.
After receiving the blessing from the baseball and football coaches, Tony Jr. was on the diamond a week later, preparing to play with one of the top programs in the state of Florida.
However, his father admits that Tony Jr. was initially met with a bit of skepticism.
“It’s funny because the baseball team is like, ‘OK, here’s this football player trying to play baseball.’” Tony Sr. said. “He got up to hit the ball for the first time, and the coach was like, ‘whoa!’”
The coaches couldn’t even believe how natural Tony Jr. was at first. However, because IMG featured a senior-laden roster this year, the newcomer found himself at the bottom of the lineup.
That was all the motivation Tony Jr. needed to make an instant impact. According to Tony Sr., he ascended in the lineup, hitting anywhere from leadoff to the fifth spot by the eighth game of the season.
With baseball ending at the beginning of April, Tony Jr. jumped into spring football practice two weeks later.
From Weinke’s perspective, he’s a natural born football player.
“Obviously, football bloodlines are in his family,” Weinke said. “His dad played. Tony just brings a nastiness and a toughness to the position that is hard to teach. From a skill-set perspective, physically, he’s very strong. In my opinion, he has great vision and great instincts.”
At 6’0”, 207-pounds, he’s become the hammer and the leader of IMG’s three-headed monster in the backfield. According to MaxPreps, he’s rushed for 649 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging more than 11 yards per carry for the Ascenders.
Weinke notes that Jones is fully capable of being a workhorse back on the college level.
“He’s probably not getting as much carries as he would in your typical high-school program, because we have three good backs in Tony, Jack Wegher and Taven Birdow,” Weinke said. “We have a three-headed horse. But he’s a guy [who] can handle 30 carries a game.”
In football, Tony Jr. has already earned offers from Central Florida, Cincinnati, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and South Florida, and he has plans to visit Georgia this weekend for their game against Auburn.
Of that group, Tony Jr. mentioned that he’s discussed the possibility of playing both sports with the coaching staffs from Cincinnati, Florida and South Florida.
While he’s yet to make a definitive choice on playing both sports in college, for now, he’s focused on having fun and enjoying playing both sports at a high level.
Regardless of which sport he chooses, his future in athletics and in the classroom is as bright as any prospect in the 2016 class.
Considering that his current head coach was once in his shoes and achieved great feats in both sports, earning his stamp of approval gives Tony Jr. the confidence necessary to continue on a path in which few athletes have found success.
“I’m sure he’s looking forward to finishing up strong and then going into spring and playing baseball,” Weinke said. “He’s been outstanding for us. We think he’s going to finish strong and then have a huge 2015. He’s a premier player and one of the best backs in the country.”
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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