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Marshall Means a Lot to Georgia Tech

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Though there is new framing to TaQuon Marshall, with magazine covers and media appearances, his foundation is as true as ever.

This off-season has been the same mindset: working really hard, trying to push the guys, bring the guys with me.
~TaQuon Marshall

In TaQuon Marshall's first-ever college start, he rushed 44 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns, throwing for 120 more yards, in leading Georgia Tech to 655 offensive yards and 41 total points against Tennessee. The historic performance was the start to a breakout season. Marshall finished the year with 27 scores and 1,146 rushing yards, a school record for a quarterback. Now a star for the Yellow Jackets, Marshall's role has most definitely changed; who he is, however, has not.

This summer, for Marshall, comes with a different setting and stature. He is a senior leader for Georgia Tech, setting the tone for his teammates as the Yellow Jackets look for a return to contention in the ACC Coastal Division. Marshall, through persistence on both the playing and practice fields, has earned the distinction currently befitting. He has already proven to be one of the most productive signal callers of the Paul Johnson era in Atlanta.

Though there is new framing to Marshall, with magazine covers and media appearances, his foundation is as true as ever. The Marshall who worked for every opportunity is the Marshall who strives to make the most of them. 

"This off-season has been the same mindset: working really hard, trying to push the guys, bring the guys with me," he explained. "In that aspect, nothing has changed."

Insightful and perceptive, it took Marshall only a handful of possessions to find his comfort zone on the big stage. Going back to the 2017 season-opener in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Marshall entered the game with his mind off and running; ultimately, his feet followed suit. Marshall, a surprise starter under center in week one to some, showed the nation what he showed Johnson and company in the months before. Even though Georgia Tech lost to Tennessee in a wild overtime showcase, a statement was clearly made.    

Replacing multi-year starter Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets found their answer at quarterback. Marshall found himself.

"There was a quarterback competition that off-season, me and my boy Matt Jordan were going at it," Marshall recalled. "I was really excited, being able to play in front of a lot fans, knowing that it was the only game on TV on a Monday night, everybody was going to be watching. In the back of my mind I was like 'oh, this is going to be a huge game', my nerves were kind of rattled. After the first couple of drives, my nerves settled down, I got into a rhythm and realized it was my eleven guys against their eleven guys."

After one of the top individual performances of the opening week of the college football season, the attention that followed came with a newfound spotlight and the reinforcement of how important it was to stand tall while in it.

"Crazy thing is, that game right there kind of changed a lot of things for me. Social media-wise, I was everywhere. A lot of people started to recognize me," Marshall added. "After that, I tried to take it one game at a time, learn things piece by piece, just progress every week, bring the guys with me and try to be great leader on and off the field and help the guys around me because we all had a common goal."

It takes a special player to run Johnson's famed triple-option attack. The responsibility placed on the quarterback is quite significant, with players like Marshall serving as the catalyst for the entire team. So much of what the Georgia Tech offense does comes down to Marshall making the correct split-second decision right after the ball is snapped. In theory, everything flows downhill from there.   

Marshall has a dedicated approach.

"You have to mentally prepare yourself to know that you are going to take some licks every game. I'm prepared for it," he added. "You have to prepare yourself physically and mentally."

In his record-setting first season as starter, Marshall had six different 100-yard rushing outings and five games with at least two rushing touchdowns, the Tennessee outburst included. He tossed ten touchdown passes, most notably a perfectly-placed 80-yard touchdown strike that proved to be the fourth quarter game-winner in a dramatic triumph over Virginia Tech. Marshall threw for at least one score in each of Georgia Tech's final four games. 

Already a respected veteran and a dynamic runner, the ideal point person in the triple-option offense, Marshall, fresh off the momentum of last November, is focused on becoming even more consistently productive through the air. Johnson believes increased proficiency in the passing game would help take Marshall to the next level. His second season as the starter, and his fourth season year in the system, is poised to be a banner year.   

"He is very athletic, a tough kid and can create a lot of plays with his feet. Needs to be more efficient in the passing game and he has worked hard on that," Johnson nodded. "If he can transition with that and become more efficient, then he is going to be a beast to try and defend."

Georgia Tech, with Marshall pacing the tempo, is in an advantageous position. Offensively, this is an experienced group fit with one of the best collections of playmakers of the Johnson era. Back are the Yellow Jackets' six leading rushers and an offensive line featuring an All-ACC candidate in Parker Braun. On defense, new coordinator Nate Woody brings his aggressive 3-4 scheme over from Appalachian State. Furthermore, few people are talking about Georgia Tech, a notion that seems to be the perfect primer for when this team is at its best.  

What is most impressive about Marshall is that he is the type of player and person who positively influences those around him. Marshall plays quarterback, but impacts every single position around him.

"It makes us better, definitely, I know it makes me better," linebacker Brant Mitchell stated. "He has the skills and capability to lead that offense. I'm glad to have him on our side. He's a great guy, a good guy to look up to off the field and on the field. Having TaQuon really helps our team tremendously."

At a tradition-rich program like Georgia Tech, missing out on the postseason doesn't meet internal expectations. The Yellow Jackets have four national championships, 16 conference titles and won the Orange Bowl as recently as 2014. Two years ago, even, Georgia won eight games in the regular season and had a stretch of seven wins in eight outings. Looking ahead, the mission, after two losing finishes in three years, is returning to consistent success. 

Marshall understands that mantra and, more so, is driving it. 

"It motivates us a lot because we know that we weren't able to close the games out. If you close them out, that changes the whole season," he concluded. "The little things are some of the things we have been trying to focus on. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, when you need somebody to step up and make a play, when you're tired and things aren't going your way, what are you going to do? Are you going to fold or bow up? That is what we have really been trying to focus on and one of the things I've been preaching as well."

College football is a constant game of ebb and flow. Managing the volatility can be the key to success. Marshall is a stirring and stabilizing force all in one.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports