Before every game,
Millbrook (Raleigh, N.C.)
running back Keith Marshall
watches highlight videos of Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush on his iPod. Then he hits the field and does his best to impersonate them.
While that may not seem that unusual for a high school running back, Marshall comes closer than most to succeeding. His electrifying runs have helped him become the No. 24-ranked player in the Class of 2012 recruit rankings
The first time Marshall touched the ball on the varsity level, when he was a sophomore, he broke three tackles and ran 60 yards. He finished that game against Garner with 265 yards rushing, plus another 100 yards receiving on four catches.
His highlight-reel runs go back even farther — Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore remembers a junior varsity game against Sanderson (Raleigh) when Marshall broke to the outside, hurdled the cornerback, spun off another hit and went 40 yards for a touchdown.
"As a JV kid, as a freshman, you look at it and go, 'Really?'" Inscore said.
Marshall is driven by a need to be the best — on the field, in the weight room, and in the classroom, where he holds a 4.2 GPA.
"I can tell you one thing — college coaches are getting a great kid that's going to work extremely hard," Millbrook athletic director Scott McInnes said.
Which college coach, however, still hasn't been determined. Because of his academic and athletic prowess, Marshall has gotten more than 30 offers — the first came from nearby North Carolina early in his sophomore year — and he has his pick of pretty much any big program.
Marshall, who plans to graduate from Millbrook this semester and be on a college campus by the spring, said the recruiting process is not an easy one.
"It can get really tiring but it's a good problem to have," he revealed.
College coaches aren't the only people focusing on him. After he collected more than 2,700 yards and 29 touchdowns the past two seasons, opponents have been putting eight or nine defenders in the box to stop the 5-foot-11, 190-pound runner. As Inscore said, "We're facing teams nowadays where all they do is read about Keith Marshall, and they're out to stop him."
But Marshall takes that in stride as well. If defenses are focused on him, that presents an opportunity for his teammates.
"I guess it's natural to stop the run, but that allows some people to do well in the pass game," Marshall said. "It can get frustrating at times but as long as we win I'm good."
Marshall is soft-spoken in person — the opposite of his Twitter account, @truthh4
, in which he has written more than 8,000 messages — and tends to lead by example. So when the captain does speak in the locker room, his teammates listen.
"The fact that he is who he is and how hard he works, other people want to work hard for him, not just because of him," Inscore said.
Marshall doesn't try to emulate only current NFL stars. He also watches highlights of his father, Warren Marshall, who was a standout back at James Madison. Both Warren and Keith are also sprinters. Keith, who was reportedly timed at 4.25 in the 40-yard dash at a UNC camp, took two years off from the track team before starting up again last spring.
He won the 100-meter dash in the state track championships in 10.68 seconds and also anchored Millbrook's winning 4x100 relay team. He finished his junior year by winning the 100 in the World Youth Trials, a qualifier for the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in France.
But Keith didn't choose football and track just because of his father, who also had a brief stint with the Denver Broncos.
"It wasn't something that I put any pressure on him to do," Warren said. "He's a very independent thinker. He's not somebody who's a follower."
Not that playing football was a tough decision, especially for someone as smart as Marshall. Said Warren: "I think it was pretty easy to convince him."Harold Gutmann covers the state of North Carolina for MaxPreps.com. He lives in Durham and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.