NFL draft next step in tough journey for Torrance Marshall

Saturday, April 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

When he arrived at Oklahoma, Torrance Marshall brought tremendous speed and a load of talent with his 6-foot-2, 245-pound body.

Still, he needed to be tougher and more dedicated to be a great linebacker who hoped to play in the NFL, his coaches said. He also needed to relax.

``He always thought somebody was out to get him,'' said Brent Venables, the Sooners' linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. ``He always thought somebody was there to lead him astray or trying to con him. He was a product of his environment, his upbringing - 'Don't trust anybody, you have to fend for yourself.'''

Marshall eventually adjusted, becoming one of the nation's best linebackers. He can also add these accomplishments to his resume: team captain of the 2000 national champion Sooners and soon-to-be high pick in the NFL draft.

``I believe I belong there,'' Marshall said. ``I know I belong there, and I think I could succeed in the NFL. Right now, it's just a matter of opportunity.''

That opportunity didn't come easily.

The product of a broken home, Marshall had to play catch-up in high school, then spent time at a military school and a community college before landing at Oklahoma.

Gloria Thompson and her husband, Leslie, gave Marshall his best chance for the future when they took him into their home in Kendall, Fla., outside Miami. Marshall grew up with his father and stepmother, but as a teen-ager that relationship became strained.

He moved in with the Thompsons and their four children after his sophomore year, when Marshall's father moved outside the school district. Marshall wanted to stay at the same school.

``They helped me out a tremendous amount,'' he said. ``They took me in, no questions asked, and treated me like one of their own.''

Marshall was already close to the Thompsons, having spent countless hours around their house with his best friend, Leslie Thompson III. The Thompsons had just two requirements - obey the house rules and do your school work.

``Like any typical teen-ager, there were some problems,'' Gloria Thompson said. ``But I think he really wanted to prove to me that he could do it.''

To graduate with his class, Marshall had to take night classes and go to summer school. He did that and got his diploma on time.

But he wasn't close to qualifying at the University of Miami, where he hoped to play. So it was off to Kemper Military Academy in Missouri, and the regimented life that began at 6 a.m. each day and helped give Marshall discipline.

After two seasons at Kemper, he came up one grade short of qualifying for Miami. That sent him back home to Miami Dade Community College, which didn't have a football program but where he got his associate's degree.

After reviewing tape, the Oklahoma coaches offered Marshall a scholarship. He arrived in Norman in the summer of 1999 and became a starter for the rebuilding Sooners.

``It was a big transformation for him,'' Gloria Thompson said. ``Division I is completely different from junior college or high school. He had to grow up quick.''

He did more growing last season, when he was a major factor in Oklahoma's 13-0 season. He was voted MVP of the Orange Bowl and was MVP of the North team in the Senior Bowl.

He made one of the biggest plays in Oklahoma's perfect season when he returned an interception 41 yards for a fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown at Texas A&M. He and All-American Rocky Calmus teamed to give the Sooners one of the nation's best linebacking tandems.

``It was like night and day from his junior year to his senior year,'' co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. ``We always knew he had tremendous ability, but always held back because he didn't always know where he needed to be exactly.''

As Marshall became more familiar with Oklahoma's system, his confidence grew and that translated to the field. He also improved his work habits.

``I think that's what probably everybody's most proud of here, his ability to mature on and off the field,'' Stoops said. ``He did all the right things.''

Marshall said he was driven last year, in part, by a desire to improve his NFL stock. He also has a wife and two young daughters to support. He recently bought a new SUV but otherwise hasn't splurged.

He'll watch the draft at the Thompson home in Florida. He said he would love to play close to home, but isn't going to be picky.

``I grew up looking at the NFL and wanting to play there,'' he said. ``I don't care if I play for the Cleveland Browns or the San Diego Chargers, it doesn't really matter to me. I just want to be a part of that fraternity.''