November 13, 2014
Tech's Corey Marshall seizes second chance; turns his career - and life - around
By Jimmy Robertson

It’s hard to imagine this, given Corey Marshall’s fantastic play on football field this fall and his emergence as a team leader. But at this point roughly one year ago, he was treading water in his own personal sea of confusion, waves of self-doubt tumbling over him.

He was drowning in anger and guilt, and he admittedly blames no one but himself. The captain of his own ship, he had scuttled it, and he found himself hoping that the rhythmic swells of life would push him toward some welcoming shoreline. None emerged.

Fortunately for Marshall, the captain of the Virginia Tech football program – head coach Frank Beamer – sailed in. Beamer may lack nautical skills by the true definition of the word, but the longtime coach knows a lot about football and even more about people. He decided to toss Marshall a life preserver.

Marshall has been clutching it ever since.

“I definitely respect him three times over,” Marshall said. “He’s pumped life back into my career, and I have great respect for him. That’s a guy you run through a wall for.”

By now, Tech fans know the story, or at least the public version. A gifted defensive lineman out of North Dinwiddie, Virginia, Marshall seemed destined for stardom once he arrived at Tech, but poor choices eventually sunk him, and Beamer let him go adrift of the football program for a spell last fall, leaving him alone to choose his future.

That Marshall found himself in such a place came as a surprise to those who know him – and comes as a surprise to those meeting with him for the first time. He comes across as a thoughtful, introspective young man and is wonderfully articulate. He wants to be a sports broadcaster when the tides of football recede, and 10 minutes into a conversation with him, one can see that he actually would be very good at that.

But no one really saw that side of him, at least up until now, because, well, Marshall gave people other reasons to look at the dark side. The issues started his sophomore year. He didn’t get into specifics, but he said he started showing up late for position meetings and team meetings. He started missing classes, and as a result, his grades suffered.

“It’s the little things that turn into big things over time,” he said. “There was a lot of human error involved. When you do that, you have to understand that your leash gets shorter every time. It’s more that it kept happening than those incidents themselves. You have to pick a path and figure which way you want to go with it. Bad habits are hard to break. What I was raised to do and coached to do wasn’t what I was giving out.”

By August of last year, Beamer had put up with enough. He called Marshall into his office and delivered some poignant news.

It was time for Marshall to move on.

“There’s never been a moment in my life when I’ve been that frozen in a moment than when he was telling me that everything I had worked for in my life was going to be gone – and I was the reason it wasn’t there anymore,” Marshall said.

But Beamer, often criticized for skewing soft on discipline, believes in second chances. He sees something in young people that few often see, or perhaps refuse to see.

He decided to offer Marshall a pathway back onto the team. Since Marshall played as a true freshman, he could take a redshirt year, practice on the scout team and get his act together. Marshall and Beamer would meet in January after the bowl game to discuss his future.

That meeting occurred, and Beamer agreed to let him back into the program, but with conditions, not the least of which was showing up at every team meeting and strength and conditioning session on time. Off the field, Marshall needed to pull up his grades.

Life preserver in hand, Marshall became a model student. He attended study halls and met with tutors, and his grades improved. He showed up at every lifting session, never once giving Dr. Mike Gentry or his staff any problems. His attitude, commitment and focus showed on the field as well during Tech’s spring practice.

By the end of the spring semester, Marshall was the MVP of Tech’s defense following spring practice and academically back on course.

“I was very surprised,” Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles said of Marshall’s turnaround. “It’s a credit to him. It’s a credit to him that he wanted to do what was right and get his schoolwork right. He wanted to be a big part of this football team. It’s important to him.

“He’s been great to deal with. He’s really positive. He wants the same thing we want. He’s 100 percent on board.”

Tech is preparing for Saturday’s game at Duke, and Marshall has been a force on the interior of Tech’s defensive line, though his stats may not reflect that. He missed the East Carolina game because of a sprained ankle suffered in the Hokies’ huge win over then-No. 8 Ohio State, and he played a limited number of snaps against Georgia Tech as a result.

He has 23 tackles through nine games, including 4.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks. His 17 hurries, though, rank second on the team. His ability to disrupt things forces opponents to focus on him and enables guys like Andrew Motuapuaka and Deon Clarke to make plays.

“It’s been real nice having Corey back,” Wiles said. “He’s good. You won’t see a better defensive tackle in our league than him. He’s that good.”

Marshall has finally navigated himself into calmer waters, a mature young man with sophisticated plans for his future. Yes, he, like every other college football player, wants to play in the NFL – he has another season of eligibility remaining – but if the winds of life blow him in another direction, he will be ready, whether it be a career in broadcasting or putting a degree in human development to use by following in his mother’s footsteps and working in the social services field.

“Going to the NFL is high on my list, but every year I’ve seen guys who could play their a---- off and then have circumstances keep it from happening,” he said. “David Wilson (neck), James Gayle (shoulder) … You always want to plan ahead.”

Corey Marshall made the decision to chart a better course for himself. Tech coaches, players and fans are certainly thankful.

So, too, is he.

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter

For updates on the Hokies, follow Jimmy Robertson on Twitter

HokieSports Shop