Herd’s Marshall to battle West Virginia’s Devine

Published 3:23 am Friday, October 16, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Darius Marshall has a blueprint for life after college — the management major wants to build a grocery store for his mom and dad in Georgia and a five-star hotel to be run by his sister.

He’s aiming high, and why not? Marshall has been proving doubters wrong since recruiters told him he was too small to play college football.

The running back who shares his last name with his school, Marshall, couldn’t have envisioned his season would turn out this good, especially considering how it started. The junior points to offseason strength training for helping him become the nation’s second-leading rusher at 147 yards per game.

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‘‘I’m blessed to be in the situation I’m in right now,’’ Marshall said.

He’ll face his stiffest test of the season on Saturday when Marshall (4-2) plays at West Virginia (4-1). The Mountaineers have the nation’s 10th best defense against the rush, limiting opponents to 85 yards per game.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Marshall simply shrugs off big challenges, just as he seems unconcerned about playing for a Conference USA school in a small market and getting little outside recognition.

‘‘Hopefully I can make a name for myself,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘It doesn’t bother me. My father and all the coaches around me keep telling me that hard work is going to pay off.’’

Marshall has changed his approach to running the ball from last year’s slasher style to a more all-around game that includes getting the ball on short-yardage situations. He’s also averaging 23 yards on kickoff returns this season.

Still, he’s not even considered the best running back in his own state. He’s never met West Virginia’s speedy Noel Devine, who rushed for 1,289 yards in 2008 — nearly 200 more than Marshall — and is the nation’s third-leading rusher with a 126-yard average.

Saturday’s game has prompted many questions about the two running backs.

‘‘I don’t really compare too many people to (Noel) because he’s special in his own kind of way,’’ said West Virginia defensive back Sidney Glover. ‘‘Of course most backs have quickness and speed, but Noel’s is different. (Darius) has a little more weight that Noel, but he’s not as quick or as fast. He’s a good back. I just don’t think he’s Noel.’’

Marshall actually began the season on the bench, having been suspended by coach Mark Snyder for the season opener against Illinois State for a misdemeanor drug arrest in May.

A 109-yard effort at No. 4 Virginia Tech was followed by career highs of 186 yards against Bowling Green and 203 yards against Memphis. It was enough to get Marshall added to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the outstanding collegiate player by the Maxwell Memorial Football Club of Philadelphia.

A 98-yard performance last week at Tulane knocked Marshall less than a yard behind Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews, who now has the nation’s best average at 148 yards per game. Marshall’s two touchdowns against Tulane gave him nine for the season, nearly double his TD production for all of last year.

Marshall wouldn’t mind overtaking Mathews, as long as it doesn’t cost his team any wins.

‘‘At the end of the season I would like to be the nation’s leading rusher, but right now I’m happy where we’re at,’’ he said. ‘‘A bowl victory is more important than individual achievements. I just look forward to playing the rest of the season no matter what happens, I’m going to give my team all I’ve got in every situation.

‘‘I’d keep my composure and stay loyal to my team — and try to make us conference champs.’’

West Virginia’s players wish Marshall all the best, except for this Saturday.

‘‘One guy is not going to tackle Darius Marshall,’’ said West Virginia defensive back Nate Sowers. ‘‘We’ve got to get a bunch of guys on the ball.’’