ULM walk-on Lee Marshall’s road back to football included Chili’s, Coca-Cola, intramurals
Lee Marshall would wake up and go to workouts at 7:45 a.m. or class at 9 a.m., depending on the particular day’s schedule.
He’d head from one to the other, finishing up in the early afternoon, and then off to six-hour work shifts stocking Coca-Cola products from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Homework and studying would cap off a routine that would make most college students cringe at the thought.
But the ULM walk-on, finally back on the football field, can’t help but see the opportunity as a blessing.
“It was hard,” Marshall says of his spring. “But it makes it much easier knowing how much I wanted to play. It’s hard, but, I mean, I can do it.”
The Monroe native wasn’t always sure he’d get the chance.
His trip from Wossman High School, where he graduated in 2013, to the hometown Warhawks, just three miles up Highway 165, took more than two years and a detour through Natchitoches.
“I sat out for a year from school, and I was supposed to go play at Northwestern (State),” he says. “I was supposed to be a preferred walk-on. I ended up just going to Northwestern fall of 2014, and I was gonna play, but I ended up deciding I wanted to come back to ULM, come home.”
Marshall enrolled in ULM in January 2015 and began working toward a computer information systems degree.
He was closer to his mother, Belonda, and most of his five brothers and three sisters and earned a position at Coca-Cola after having worked at Chili’s in West Monroe and Natchitoches in the years prior.
The Warhawks’ football roster was full, though, he says coaches told him.
“There were some times when I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to play, but I was just hoping I’d get another chance,” Marshall says. “It was tough, because I love football. So not doing it, it would be hard.”
So he waited and tried his best to stay optimistic.
The work aspect came easily.
Marshall participated in intramural flag football at Northwestern State in 2014 and ULM in 2015, saying a need to focus on speed and footwork in less-physical competition may have actually helped his game.
And he continued to train as best as he could individually to ensure he’d be ready if another chance ever did arise.
“He would work out on his own at home and do drills by himself,” brother Keith Marshall remembers. “Sometimes we would work out together when I came home from school. He would always pray and just work out and say, “God’s not gonna let my work go unnoticed.”
Lee used to race Keith from opposite ends of the line to see which could reach opposing quarterback more quickly for sacks.
This time, though, he was thankful he had his brother’s lead to follow for inspiration.
Keith began his college career at Arkansas Baptist, but quickly left after just two weeks.
He attended Louisiana Delta Community College in the spring of 2014, but then made his way to Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss., where he played in six games this past fall as a sophomore.
“That really was one of the reasons why I wanted to get back this spring,” Lee says. “Seeing him still playing, it just really motivated me to want to get back … I actually was gonna go to Belhaven with him at one time, but I really didn’t wanna be that far from home.”
ULM hired coach Matt Viator in December and began assembling a new staff around him.
And Lee knew his wait was over if it was going to end at all.
“When they got the new coach, I thought, ‘This is my opportunity to try and play again,'” he says
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound hometown product began working with the Warhawks in the spring.
His return to tackle football for the first time in more than three years was admittedly challenging.
But Lee didn’t back down and has already felt progress in his push toward a role this fall.
“It was a lot, just being in that heat with all those pads on,” he says. “Getting back used to being in football shape, it was tough … I think I’m a little bit more ready than I was in the spring, but I know I still need some work.”
ULM coaches are hopeful Marshall can make an impact on special teams in his first season of college football.
And playing time at linebacker could be the next step from there if he can work his way into that mix.
The Warhawks enter this fall with one senior, two juniors and five underclassmen listed at the position.
“I think he will do real well,” says younger brother Brandon Marshall, still weighing his own college options after graduating this spring. “He might start off a little rusty, but he’s just gotta get back used to being on the field again. After while you will see him back to playing like it was high school again.”
Lee plans to continue to work as much as possible away from the field, although he knows football season might require some cutbacks to keep the juggling act rolling.
“Grind never stops,” he recently posted via Facebook with a picture of his new locker.
He’s not overly concerned with the details of the schedule just yet.
He’s just thankful for the chance to tackle them and confident his work ethic can continue to carry him.
ULM opens the 2016 season Sept. 3 at home in Malone Stadium, where the Warhawks will play five games this season just a few miles from the high school where Lee, Keith and Brandon once made up three-fourths of the defensive line.
“It’ll be a amazing — getting another opportunity to play in front of my family,” Lee says. “I’m ready to play. It was hard this spring, but it was fun. I’m excited to play.”
Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.