Marshall is perceived as one of the most intelligent Deacons. He made the difficult transition from cornerback to safety seamlessly. Off the field, Marshall remains low-key, but inherently exudes confidence. His swagger makes him the funniest kid in the class (he even speaks español muy bien), while still being a contributor in discussions.
Expect big things this year from A.J. Marshall, on and off the field.
Position: Free Safety
Hometown: Durham, North Carolina
Height/Weight: 6-0, 195
Griffin: You played cornerback your entire career, how difficult was the transition to safety?
A.J.: The transition wasn’t that bad because I had Josh Bush, he was like my big brother. My sophomore year I played more nickel (fifth defensive back on the field) he taught me that position. At that position, I had to know what he was doing behind me at safety-- he was an outstanding safety for us--I really just looked up to him and tried to follow in his footsteps. He really taught me the ins and outs of the defense, but going from practice to the game was an adjustment.
G: How much has it helped having that extra year under your belt at the safety position?
A: I have high expectations for myself this season. I did what I needed to last year, but there are a lot of areas for improvement. Being a leader on the field, helping other guys and making more plays on defense.
G: The secondary overall three starters including yourself returns Bud Noel, Kevin Johnson, Allen Ramsey, Duran Lowe and James Ward, all who received time last year, in addition to you. What makes this group so special?
A: Our bond. We have about six guys who are capable of starting and making an impact. No matter how many reps we get, each one of us tries to maximize that rep. We have been working so hard to build relationships between each other and our bond is very good as a unit.
G: Do you think this bond carries over to the rest of the defense?
A: Definitely, we put a lot of emphasis on take backs and defensive backs are usually leaders on INT's and TO. We put pressure on ourselves to not only lead the defense, but the entire unit.
G: How good can this secondary be?
A: I really think this secondary has the potential to be one of the top secondaries in the nation this year. With Bud coming back, he’s hungrier than ever. Kevin is working harder than ever. I’m hungry. Ward is hungry. Lowe is hungry. AR should earn a lot of playing time this year. We just have a really hungry group.
G: According to Rivals.com, you are the last four star recruit commitment Wake Forest has received three years ago. Why has Wake not received any four or five-star recruits since then?
A: I haven’t been very involved in the recruiting. I know a lot has changed in our recruiting coordinators. We have had a lot of coaching changes in the past few years that could be an issue, but the coaches are mostly responsible for recruiting and I mostly leave that up to them. When the recruits come, we make sure they have a good time and make sure they get the whole family environment we have here at Wake Forest, but it’s not in our hands. Hopefully that will change when we go to bowl games and everything.
G: Do you think the lack of high-end recruits has to do with the coaching philosophy of getting players that fit into the system versus the best talent available or does it have more to do with Wake Forest not having a big national name on a national scale?
A: I think that when it comes to the ratings, many kids are overrated some are underrated. But when we are recruiting, we look for character guys—that is Coach Grobe’s mentality. This is because guys with character are good teammates. I’d rather have a productive team than a productive individual.
G: It was announced this season that Coach Grobe has ended the long-running redshirt rule. As a player who played right away instead of redshirting, what are the challenges that these players face?
A: For one, you are younger than everyone else. You are coming in at 17-18 years old and you are playing against some 5th year seniors who are 21-22 year olds. When I came in I was playing against the Tyrod Taylor’s of the world. It’s a great experience. I played against Andrew Luck, one of the best QBs ever. But it’s a learning experience and it’s very humbling. As you said, I was a four-star so I thought I’d be making all these plays that I was in high school but it’s much different which I learned early on. I learned that I needed to work harder and get into the film room more.
G: Looking back on it, do you think it would have been beneficial to redshirt?
A: I think redshirting is a good thing. A lot of kids want to come out and play right away, but it betters many players in the long-term. It gives people an opportunity to get adjusted and acquainted in the class room and with the defense or offense. You get used to the program and the level of competition. But for me, I’m happy how it worked out.
G: Dan Collins called this defense the best he has seen at Wake Forest. How do you feel about this assessment?
A: I could agree (chuckles). I really like Dan Collins, he’s a great guy. He does a lot of research and I agree with what he said. I think we are so much hungrier than we have ever been. We are really emphasizing take backs and putting the offense in good position and scoring. We haven’t had this [aggressive] mindset. We are really trying to get away from complacency.
G: The Deacs had some tough losses in the past few seasons. What do you attribute these late game falters to?
A: I feel like as a team we didn’t finish. A lot of plays that should have been made have been left on the field. We plan on making those plays this year.
G: What have you learned from these losses to prevent them from happening this year?
A: We learned that we need to play a full game, a full 60 minutes. We need to play hard, play fast and compete. We can’t ever give up on a play. If a guy busts out for 40 yards, go chase him down. We have to be stingy on defense and on offense, they need to be arrogant. Those two attitudes were bringing to the table this year are great and will serve us well.
G: Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, just missing a bowl game, what are the team expectations for this season?
A: We are shooting for the stars. We are going for the Orange Bowl. As seniors, we feel we need to step up as leaders. Not just vocally, we need to lead by example. We need to help the team out as much as possible. We are shooting for the Orange Bowl because we don’t want to sell ourselves short and go for the 6-6 bowl. We want the best.
G: What are your individual goals?
A: I haven’t thought about anything individually. But as any defensive back would say, the Jim Thorpe Award would be great, but I’m not worried about individual awards. It’s all about victories and being a great team, once you get wins everything comes with it. The fan base is more enlightened and then the media will come and then more fans will come out that we never saw before. I think with wins and positive plays we will be fine and all the other stuff will come.
G: A lot of the Florida football players talk smack about other states. I have heard Florida natives claim that three-star recruits in Florida are five-stars everywhere else. Being a North Carolina native, how do you respond to that?
A: First, Florida is bigger. They possibly could have more talent because they have more people. If Florida and North Carolina were the same size it would be even. As a matter of fact, North Carolina breeds athletes, Florida breeds football players. We breed guys that play QB and DB and do whatever the coach wants. I love Florida guys to death but I’m gonna have to say that… alright I can lie, Florida produces talent. Florida Texas and California but that’s because they are the biggest states.
G: Here on BSD there was recently a piece on the 2008 “Fresh Deacs.”INT for TD Is there a nickname for this team?
A: All the nicknames kind of ran out. We were thinking about recycling some but it would not be the same. It has kind of faded away now. We’re just keeping it on the field.
G: Anything else you want to say to Tie-Dye Nation and readers of Blogger So Dear?
A: I just appreciate your time and your faithfulness to Tie-Dye Nation and expect big things out of all sports programs this year.
What struck me the most from this interview? The word that A.J. kept repeating. Hungry. This is the attitude that Wake Forest needs in order to contend in the ACC. The Deacs must employ this blue-collar mind-set in practices and workouts and play with a chip on their shoulder every Saturday. And by the sound of it, that is exactly what they are doing.
Football less than two months away! Much more BSD Wake Forest football coverage on the way!