ATHENS, Ga. — It took nearly 17 months for Nick Marshall to go from one Southeastern Conference football program to another, but only about 72 hours to be on his way to his in-between home after he was shown the door at Georgia.
Marshall was a cornerback his freshman season for the Bulldogs, but during a long drive to Garden City Community College in Kansas, Marshall told his new coach, Jeff Tatum, he wanted to play quarterback.
“I think that’s where his heart was the whole time anyway,” said Tatum.
Georgia had told Marshall if he wanted to play quarterback, he would need to redshirt, but could play as a freshman at defensive back, Tatum said. And that’s what Marshall did, making five tackles in 13 games and having a role on special teams.
Georgia and Marshall will reunite Saturday at Auburn, where Marshall is now the starting quarterback for the No. 7 team in the nation. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior is coming off a career-best, 214-yard rushing game in a rout of Tennessee that earned him SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday.
“He said it’s going to be kind of odd because this was his home,” said Georgia safety Corey Moore, who remains friends with Marshall and spoke to him a couple of weeks ago.
After the win against Tennessee on Saturday, Marshall told reporters about going up against his former team that “it’s just another opponent that’s in our way.”
Marshall had been booted from Georgia in February 2012 for a theft in a teammate’s dorm room. He was dismissed along with receiver Sanford Seay and cornerback Chris Sanders.
Tatum said he heard Marshall’s side of the story.
“I was told, I think by one of the coaches on the staff, that he made a mistake, he didn’t want to do it, but he knew Nick was not 100 percent in the wrong,” said Tatum, now the coach at Mississippi Delta Community College. “He came in and told the truth and if he went to junior college and didn’t have any trouble there, he possibly could come back to Georgia.”
Asked about that possibility Monday, Georgia coach Mark Richt said: “I think Nick was excited about his opportunity at Auburn, and I’m happy for him,”
Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Georgia initially recruited Marshall as a quarterback, but he had a change of heart and wanted to play defense.
“We just felt like he was such a great athlete that we’d let him play whatever he wanted to play,” Bobo said.
Marshall committed to Georgia in June of 2010 after privately telling Georgia Tech coaches he planned to play there as a defensive back with a shot to play quarterback, Ledford said when Marshall gave his verbal pledge to Georgia.
Coaches had re-offered him as a cornerback after landing a commitment from Christian LeMay.
Richt thinks Marshall would have made quite the cornerback.
“I think he’d be an all-conference type guy,” he said. “He’d be a guy that would have a very bright future at that position. He’s very talented. He’s a dynamic guy. He’s got multi-skills and is using a lot of them as a quarterback right now.”
While at Garden City, Kansas State recruited him as a quarterback, but Marshall was concerned about being moved back to defensive back. Texas showed interest and Auburn offered him a chance to get closer to his home.
His mother flew out to Kansas to see him play in junior college at least three times. He threw for 3.142 yards and rushed for 1,095.
“When he first got there, he threw the ball too hard and guys had a hard time catching it,” Tatum said. “He’s learned to take a little bit off of it where now he throws a catchable ball.”
Tatum said of Saturday’s game against Georgia: “Knowing him, he’s not going into the game saying I’ve got to prove Georgia anything wrong. The whole time he was there he never said one bad thing about coach Richt or the University of Georgia.”
Richt said Monday that the last time he might have spoken to Marshall was when he was in his office, but had “a couple of texts here and there,” before he landed at Auburn.
“To see him in another uniform is going to be kind of weird, but at the same time I’m very happy for that guy,” said Bulldogs cornerback Damian Swann, who roomed with Marshall when they got to Georgia. “He’s only lost one game right now and he’s playing very well. That’s what I want for all of the guys that were here that had to end up leaving. When guys leave here we want them to go somewhere and be the best player they can be. He’s proven that.”