When Jalin Marshall arrived at Ohio State, he found himself adjusting to not only a new level of football, but a new position as well.
The redshirt-freshman H-back played quarterback at Middletown High School in Middletown, Ohio, but chose to change positions with his future on the gridiron in mind.
“I felt like the next level for me wouldn’t be at quarterback,” the 5-foot-11-inch Marshall said Monday. “Just because of the height and all that stuff. I felt like it was a lot of challenges there for me to play at the next level.”
Ranked the No. 1 recruit in the state by 247Sports coming out of high school, Marshall had opportunities to continue on as a signal caller in college, he said. But instead he chose a route that might seem the easy one to some, but he said he sees it differently.
“I didn’t want to necessarily take the easier route, but I feel like I took the smarter route, as far as moving to receiver,” he said. “Coach (Urban) Meyer has definitely made me a better receiver and I continue to get better each week.”
While his improvement on the field has been showcased in more recent weeks, Marshall’s time in Columbus didn’t start the way he may have hoped. Instead of stepping straight in and becoming a key contributor as a freshman, he sat out the 2013 season as a redshirt.
Marshall said the switch to the college level from high school came down to his mental preparation, and added he simply wasn’t up to speed starting off when it came to knowing his assignments and recognizing the play of the defense on the fly.
“That was a big part for me, because I wanted to think so much,” he said. “I wanted to evaluate what I was doing before I did it.”
After not seeing the field as a true freshman, Marshall finally got his chance to don a scarlet and gray uniform on the field for a meaningful game on Aug. 30 when the Buckeyes took on Navy in Baltimore. In limited playing time, he showed flashes of his potential with three carries for seven yards and a pair of catches for another 19 yards.
Marshall didn’t touch the ball in OSU’s week two loss to Virginia Tech before having a minor coming out party against Kent State on Sept. 13. In the Buckeyes’ 66-0 win against the Golden Flashes, he scored the first touchdown of his OSU career and returned two punts for 66 yards. He got into the end zone again two games later against Maryland before having a breakout performance as an all-around threat Saturday against Rutgers.
He finished with three receptions for 58 yards, four punt returns for 45 yards and a kick return for 26 yards in the Buckeyes’ 56-17 victory.
Meyer summed up Marshall’s performance against the Scarlet Knights in one sentence.
“Jalin Marshall is much improved, graded a champion,” he said Monday.
On Tuesday during the Big Ten teleconference, Meyer delved deeper into the journey Marshall has made to become a contributor at OSU. He said Marshall was “not a good practice player last year,” and struggled with his schoolwork. But this season, Meyer said he’s seen a change.
“Here’s a kid now, one of our better practice players,” he said. “Does well in school, a gentleman, a guy that represents Ohio State the right way.”
OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith said Marshall’s recent success is a product of hard work as he tries to live up to his status as a top prospect coming out of high school.
“Coming into the year, we had high expectations,” Smith said of Marshall on Monday. “Coming into his career, there were high expectations. He worked hard, tried to live up to those.”
Marshall saved credit for Smith when it comes to his development from being a redshirt to leading the Buckeyes in all-purpose yards as they picked up their fourth win in a row.
“He kinda demanded that I had to grow up, become a player,” he said. “Because I had to help the team, and I appreciate that from him.”
And after his performance against Rutgers, Marshall said he feels his coaches have taken notice of his play.
“I feel like they gave me good feedback, as far as how well I did,” he said. “They said that I was aggressive. I didn’t slide back from the coverage. I got the ball and I put my foot in the ground and went, so I think they liked that a lot.”
Marshall said his explosive play against Rutgers was an extension of how he describes his personal style on the field.
“I feel like when I get the ball … I want to score,” he said. “So as soon as I grab it, I turn up field as quick as I can and run as fast as I can to the straightest line to the end zone.”
As a part-time starter at H-back and a starter on punt return, Marshall could have many more chances to plant his foot and go in the coming weeks.
His next chance is set to come against Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pa. Kickoff between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions is scheduled for 8 p.m.