It’s rare to see a freshman starting at quarterback at the high-school level. Usually, they must contend with a lack of size and maturity, and of course the pressure the position holds.
Sure, freshmen have had success when put in that role in past years, including Jayru Campbell when he helped Detroit Cass Tech to a Division 1 state championship back in 2011, and then Dante Moore last fall when he helped Detroit King win the PSL title and advance to the Division 2 state championship game.
But, Campbell and Moore had 7-on-7 competition during the summer to gain tremendous chemistry with their receivers while facing defenses.
That won’t be the case this summer for 14-year-old Isaiah Marshall, who is finishing eighth grade via Zoom from his home during the pandemic.
Marshall also is taking Zoom classes on leadership skills, too, which will go a long way since he will be leading Southfield A&T’s offense this fall while playing alongside players two and three years older.
Marshall — the son of former Birmingham Brother Rice star running back Brian Marshall, who went on to play at Northwestern — will more than likely not have those 7-on-7s to help prepare him for the season, which is expected to get underway Aug. 28 against perennial state power Birmingham Groves.
Isaiah Marshall is talented, getting an offer from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh as a seventh-grader at MacArthur University Academy in Southfield. Harbaugh made the trip to A&T High during the winter of 2019, reviewed his tape, broke it down, critiqued it and made the offer.
Marshall had played for the Southfield Falcons youth team, leading his team to multiple national championships, then a third-place finish in 2018 and a runner-up spot in 2019.
He threw for 40 touchdowns with just three interceptions this past season. In addition to Michigan, he also has offers from Kentucky, Maryland and Florida Atlantic.
While 7-on-7s are off the table, at least for now, Isaiah is in the enviable position of being in contact with his father, an assistant coach at A&T; and his uncle, Aaron Marshall, A&T’s offensive coordinator who played quarterback at Youngstown State and in Arena football. He has been a mentor since Isaiah was a toddler, with former Brother Rice assistant coach Richard Popp also lending a hand along the way.
“It’s a difficult transition, but the main thing we can do is just control what we can control," Brian Marshall said, "which is Zoom calls, diving into the playbook, learning the system and getting as much individual work in as possible, that with small groups, like one or two receivers.
“Outside of that, there’s not too much we can do as a whole. Downside, yes we don’t get that same chemistry we would have gotten from 7-on-7s, but on the upside we’re able to dive into the playbook a little more so it will come together. I know he’s looking to the challenge, so he’ll be prepared.”
Isaiah Marshall has gotten much bigger and stronger than when he received the offer from Michigan back in January 2019, having grown from 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds to 5-11 and 175 pounds.
While Moore, who received an offer from Michigan just prior to eighth grade in June 2018, is a pro-style quarterback, Marshall is a dual-threat quarterback.
“I would say reading the defense, his footwork as far from a skilled standpoint and then from the IQ of the game, reading the defense and then being able to anticipate those windows based off of coverages and things like that, and making audibles on his own,” Brian Marshall said, when asked where Isaiah’s biggest improvements were. “He’s a dual-threat, does a lot of RPO and a lot of zone read, so he’s definitely a huge threat to run the ball. It will be the same in high school as well where we do a lot of zone read and a lot of RPO.”
Marshall will be working behind a line anchored by tackle Caleb Banks (Arizona State), with multiple weapons to work with, including wide receiver Robert Army (Iowa State), slot receiver Jeff Bowens and running back Rae’Quin Lee (Ball State) with Army, Bowens and Lee all operating with 4.4 speed.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually happy because we’re going to have a good team,” Isaiah Marshall said. “I feel like we needed the 7-on-7s to build a chemistry and stuff like that. I’ll be playing with guys who are faster and stronger than I am now. I’m just going to go out there and be me (no pressure).”
Said Brian Marshall: “Isaiah’s been doing these leadership classes, which is helping him out a lot, taking them twice a week and they’ve been beneficial. Richard Popp does a great job with them and has some guys on the call, guys like (former Brother Rice quarterback) Alex Malzone and (former Dearborn Divine Child quarterback) Theo Day.”
Brian Marshall is looking forward to watching his son play at the high school level, knowing he has elite talent with which to work.
“We have some fast guys, track guys with Army and Bowens, so he’ll have a lot of help this year which is good because as a freshman you want as much help as possible," Brian Marshall said. "And then Rae’Quin will take some of the load off in the backfield, which will allow him a year to adjust and then most of it will be on his shoulders of course, but it’s always good to have some seniors to help him along the way."
Campbell proved to be ready for the big stage at Cass Tech, throwing 240 yards and 5 touchdowns to punctuate his freshman year with a 49-13 state title game win over Detroit Catholic Central.
And, Moore was an All-Detroit first-team quarterback, completing 67% of his passes, throwing for 2,731 yards and 33 TDs to lead King to its fourth state title game appearance in the last five years.
And, while expectations will be high for Isaiah Marshall, a winning record and state playoff appearance will be a success since A&T has just one winning record in its four years of existence. Southfield A&T has gone 4-5, 3-6 and 4-5 the past three seasons, including a close loss (31-24) to Division 3 state champion River Rouge last year and a split against Division 1 power Clarkston (28-14 win, 22-21 loss).