When DeVante Marshall came to Smiths Station as a sophomore in 2011, he was a good athlete with raw ability, but still trying to build himself into a true football player who could withstand the rigors of the game.
At the time, he was perhaps a little behind some of the other guys in strength, having not participated in the team’s weight training program. Panthers coach Mark Rose called him a good runner at the time. He’s added to that description, now.
“He’s a strong runner,” Rose said. “He was a little behind in strength then, but you can see the strength really taking hold. He’s breaking tackles, getting yards after contact. He’s always been a good runner, but he’s running stronger now.”
So strong, in fact, that he has been one of the main keys to Smiths Station’s early offensive success, which has led it to a 2-0 start and an average of more than 40 points per game. And he’ll be a big factor if that good start is going to continue in any form against Auburn on Friday.
“He and J.J. (Dancy) give us two home run hitters in the running game,” Rose said. “I think they combined for 275 yards in that first win against Enterprise.”
Marshall went for 150 in that game and followed with 79 in last week’s win over Lanier, giving him a team-high 230 yards already.
Marshall said that his success has been a combination of his own hard work along with the experience and work the rest of his teammates have contributed as well.
“Just working hard, not losing focus of the main goal,” he said when asked to describe the success this year. “We have a lot more experienced guys. Guys just know what they’re doing in games and everything. It’s infectious.”
Rose said that it’s a strong relationship among the players on offense that lead to everyone’s individual success. No one is a “look-at-me” player, they respect each other and are very unselfish.
“We have a lot of good players, but we don’t have any who think they’re stars,” Rose said. “(Marshall) is a humble guy, first of all. He’s a great person away from the field, he’s really respectful and he’s an outstanding football player. He gets along with the guys well. It’s a look-at-me generation, but he’s not that way.
“A lot of our guys don’t talk to much, but they lead by example, and that’s probably the best way to do it.”
The guys know Friday’s contest with Auburn is a big one. It’s a region contest against one of the better teams in the state, a team that has controlled the series for a long time. Auburn has won 14 of the past 15 meetings. Making that 14 out of 16 won’t be easy, but this may be the Panthers team that can give it a shot.
They have a ton of experience, nearly made the playoffs last year and certainly appear to be a team that can contend again this season.
“We know we can’t turn the ball over,” Marshall said. “We have to stay focused and not make mistakes. (A win) would put us in great standing, and it would just give us some hope. We always get blown out by them, so it would give us a lot of hope going forward.”
With Marshall and Dancy (158 yards, 4 touchdowns rushing) coming out of the backfield, Smiths Station has more than hope. They have a chance.
“There’s no way around it, they have a great team,” Rose said. “We just have to beat them. That’s how we can join the conversation about being among those elite teams.”
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