Trey Wilson may make the ESPN scouting reports. Kenny Ladler may take the weekly press conference questions. But Javon Marshall has also packed plenty of punch for Vanderbilt in the young 2012 season.
Through three games, Marshall leads all secondary players with 19 tackles and has one forced fumble. With tremendous athleticism and a barrage of helmet-rattling hits, No. 31 has made his presence felt every gameday.
“He (Marshall) embodies everything that you look for in a safety,” said defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. “He’s smart, he’s got good coverage skills and he’s physical. Javon has a real passion for the game.”
Now in his redshirt junior season, Marshall’s steady play on the field has rewarded him with more responsibility.
“We moved him from free safety to strong safety,” said Shoop. “Our scheme of strong safety really is the linchpin of the whole defense. He’s rarely if ever out of position and he just has a nose for the ball and makes plays.”
Besides his coachability, Javon’s knowledge of the game and willingness to help other players has done nothing but impress.
“It provides me with a sense of confidence that he can finish my sentences,” said Schoop. “We have a type of connection where he understands the defense as well as anybody we have on the roster. He’s an extension of the coaching staff on the field. He’s a natural leader.”
While this may appear seamless, Marshall’s rise to starter has been far from an easy path. In his redshirt season in 2009, the strong safety was a member of the scout team, only seeing action in practice. The following season, Javon battled through a leg injury and was featured in eight games as a reserve defensive back and the special teams player. It was only in James Franklin’s first season as head coach that Marshall saw action as a starter.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Marshall. “It’s been a lot of hard work. I think anybody will say that that came from playing on the scout team. You have to relearn the game and humble yourself after coming from high school and being a starter. It’s been a long journey and a humbling process, but it makes you a better person in life and in football.”
As he relearned the craft of becoming an effective defensive player, Marshall kept a close eye on linebacker Chris Marve and cornerback Casey Hayward, two of Vanderbilt’s best difference makers on defense in recent memory. Following Marve and Hayward’s graduation, Marshall has tried to emulate the duo’s no-fear approach to the game.
“On Saturdays those types of players let it go,” he said. “They just have fun without thinking twice. When you see those types of players and you get to play with them on the field, you learn a lot and you want to take the positive attributes they bring to the game and build them into yours.”
Despite Vanderbilt’s 1-2 record, Marshall’s impact as a leader and playmaker has translated well to the stat sheets. In three games, the Commodore secondary has given up only 302 passing yards and has surrendered no passing touchdowns.
“This year we are a very cohesive unit,” he said. “We’re talking and using hand signals out there. We’re making sure everybody’s on the right page.”
Javon Marshall occupies an intriguing position in Vanderbilt football. Having played under Bobby Johnson, Robbie Caldwell and James Franklin, Marshall has seen a major change in the culture of the program. But like all gifted athletes, Javon has kept his focus, evolved and emerged stronger through the difficult times.