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May 23, 2013

The road ahead

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This is the fourth installment in our series about quarterback Nick Marshall.

GARDEN CITY, Kan. | Nick Marshall wants you to know something.

He's not Cam Newton. He's not going to be Cam Newton.

"I wouldn't say I'm rolling in his footsteps," Marshall said. "I'm a different guy. We had the same type of situations, but I really don't know how I'd compare (myself) to Cam Newton. It doesn't bother me at all. I'm just over it -- for real."

The comparisons are inevitable. Mobile quarterbacks from Georgia, started at Southeastern Conference schools only to get in some off-the-field trouble that prompted a move to junior college, resume SEC play at a second school, strong arms.

Yet these men accomplish things in much different ways.

Newton was 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds when he won the Heisman Trophy after the 2010 regular season. He was a quarterback, a shifty tailback and a bruising fullback in one wide-smiled package.

Marshall? He's currently 6-2 and 205 pounds. The Tigers' newest signal-caller is faster than Newton with the same kind of arm strength.

The biggest difference is on third down. Newton could barrel through defensive linemen in the "A" gap or bowl over linebackers in the "B" gap to convert on 3rd-and-4.

"I'm not that type of guy," Marshall said.

That may not be a problem. Auburn has significantly more depth at tailback these days with Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason, Corey Grant and possibly newcomer Peyton Barber available to grind out tough yardage between the tackles.

Plus, Marshall will be a true home-run threat every time the Tigers run the read option with him behind center. Ten yards isn't a goal. Marshall craves the end zone and believes, without a single hint of doubt, that he can out-run and out-maneuver anyone who attempts to slow his forward progress.

Is he successful every time? Nobody is.

That didn't stop him from averaging seven yards per carry against the conference teams who had time to scheme him.

Oh, and don't forget about the arm. Marshall dropped jaws during the Mississippi Bowl when he scrambled away from pressure and threw a ball, while on the run, 71 downfield yards to an open receiver.

"Auburn is getting the best quarterback in the country, plain and simple," said Matt Miller, who served as Marshall's offensive coordinator last season at Garden City Community College. "Heck, I think they're getting the best football player in America -- at any school anywhere."

Marshall knows moving from the Jayhawk Conference to the SEC won't be easy. To help with the transition, he's been working out daily with Garden City slot receiver Tyreek Hill, who represented Team USA as a sprinter at the World Junior Championships in Spain last summer.

The quarterback's connection with Auburn is strengthening as well. He grew up playing travel basketball with current players Quan Bray and Gabe Wright, who have been dispensing pointers over the phone.

"(Bray) is really telling me I need to hurry up and get there so I can get a bond with the receivers, we can start throwing and stuff," Marshall said.

He held a long conversation with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee during his official visit in January about the Tigers offense. The crux? Lashlee and coach Gus Malzahn adjusts the offense to accentuate each quarterback's strengths. And Marshall believes the whole thing about this offense being complicated is overrated.

The quarterback said he'll arrive on campus in June and study the playbook from sunrise to sundown until it becomes second nature.

"I can pick it up quickly," he said.

Strategy will be one adjustment.

Humility may be a more taxing obstacle. Marshall rarely has crossed paths with better players. There simply aren't many. He was a revelation at Wilcox County (Ga.) High, played as a freshman at Georgia, dominated his junior-college league despite a change in position.

That success has given Marshall a massive dose of confidence.

The upside is that he expects miracles. No play, no idea, is too ambitious. No deficit is too large. No opponent is too formidable.

Miller, the Garden City coach, loved that about his star pupil.

And while Marshall's confidence may have a downside, it's one Miller believes will become a positive in time. Auburn, he believes, will watch that transformation with giddiness.

"He knows he's a lot better than everyone else out there and that need to be honed down a little bit," Miller said with a smile. "That's a problem you like to have as a coach -- as opposed to slow feet or a slow release. Going out there and believing you can make every play is more than half the battle. I've never really seen Nick Marshall fail. He might make a bad read or a bad throw, lose a fumble. That just makes him better the next time he gets the ball. He's exactly what every coach wants. Auburn got the best."



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