ROCHELLE — Nick Marshall has the whole “C” thing nailed down.
Cool. Calm. Collected.
The junior quarterback from Wilcox County doesn’t get all worked up by talking about himself or his team or a state championship. A conversation with Marshall is dominated by “yes sir” and “no sir.”
“One thing that separates him from some guys that are talented is he’s really cool,” Wilcox County head coach Mark Ledford said. “He stays calm. He doesn’t panic.”
So it’s no surprise who Marshall’s favorite quarterbacks are.
“Peyton Manning and Tom Brady,” he said.
Asked to pick one, Marshall said, “Manning. He’s calm and collected.”
That’s one reason Marshall has a chance to be a three-time all-stater, to pick from scores of colleges in either football or basketball and gratify legions of Wilcox County fans, past and present, if he comes up with just a normal game Saturday when the Patriots take on Savannah Christian.
On the outside, off the field, Marshall can’t seem less excited about the latest biggest game in program history.
He knows players and fans from the mid-1950s, when Wilcox Central started the county’s first football program, are full of excitement as the Patriots prepare for their second state title game in three years — the second in Wilcox Central and Wilcox County history.
His dad played quarterback at Wilcox County. He has other relatives who are former or current Patriots. It seems like everybody on this team has a connection to past teams.
So two generations will be living and dying with the Patriots’ fortunes on Saturday.
Marshall is — quietly — just ready to play.
“I talk a little bit on the field,” he said. “I try to get everybody pumped up.”
Marshall has confidence, he just doesn’t verbalize it much. It’s clearly out of character for him to even admit that he’s one of the state’s top multi-sport athletes regardless of class.
The 6-foot-2 junior has absurd numbers this season: a completion rate of 58.9 percent, 30 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 2,740 yards. That comes a year after passing for 2,226 yards, 29 touchdowns and four interceptions, enough to earn first-team All-State honors as a sophomore.
So in two seasons as a starter, Marshall has a remarkable statistical résumé: 299 completions, 528 attempts, only 18 interceptions, 4,966 yards and 59 touchdowns.
“His first snap his sophomore year as a quarterback went for about 75 yards for a touchdown,” Ledford said of that first real indication of Marshall’s potential. “We knew he was going to be special when he was in seventh grade.”
Ledford recalled a play during Marshall’s freshman year when he was put at wide receiver, took in a long lateral and then threw a touchdown pass to former teammate Willie Gibson.
“We knew he had the tools,” Ledford said. “Did we know he’d be this good? You’re not ever really thinking a kid’s going to be this great.”
Lonnie Outlaw’s first real glimpse came in some mop-up duty when Marshall was a freshman.
“He threw a slant, a 60 slant, to me,” Outlaw said. “He threw it on the money, and I took it to the house.
“Then I knew it was gonna be a good ol’ time.”
And then the bar was raised in the second game of 2008.
“We were going to play Perry,” Outlaw said. “I was like, ‘Nick, you got to be on your ‘A’ game.’ I had three touchdowns that game, he threw about five touchdowns against Perry. He threw five touchdown passes against a triple-A school, and we beat ‘em pretty good.
“That’s when I knew he’d be really good.”
Wilcox County won 47-21 and beat nine of the next 10 opponents by at least 14 points before the season-ending loss to Lincoln County in the playoffs.
But Marshall is no one-man show.
Outlaw is a 6-7 gamechanger, and Marshall has a variety of other targets who are quality wideouts. Wilcox County has nearly 1,400 yards in rushing, so there’s clearly a solid and versatile offensive line in front.
“He’s got a pretty good supporting cast,” Ledford said. “We throw it to about eight or 10 receivers every game.”
Marshall thinks basketball practice may start Sunday, and not a moment too soon. Pretty much everybody on the Patriots’ basketball team is wearing pads and a helmet right now.
There is anxiety for hoops to start, too. Wilcox County reached the Macon Coliseum and the Final Four last spring, with all-stater Marshall leading the way in the 25-8 season.
“You can’t tell him he reminds you of LeBron (James), but he does,” Outlaw said. “When he gets out on the court, he just gets in his own zone. He’ll shoot you from the outside, or he’ll drive and dunk on you.”
Marshall confesses to liking Florida State for basketball, but he is familiar with the football staff, as well. He also admits that basketball might be his future sport, although a senior football season that builds on his sophomore and junior campaigns will lead to plenty of pressure on him.
At which he’ll likely just shrug and keep walking.
As tough as it is to cover the receivers and keep an eye on the quarterback and then defend a usually on-target pass, Outlaw feels more for defensive linemen.
“He’s very mobile,” Outlaw said. “It’s just amazing how he’d be cutting back. The defense tries to get him, and I’m like, ‘They can’t get him.’ No contain.”
Ledford, who noted that Marshall completed all five of his attempts as a freshman for two touchdowns and 133 yards, is asked a simple question.
Would he rather be a cornerback or safety or defensive end facing Marshall on the field, or guard him one-on-one in a gym?
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “Either way, you’re in trouble.”