In 2013 training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cimarron-Memorial High School product Brandon Marshall had a hard time believing in his grandfather’s premonition that he would play in the Super Bowl that season.
“He said, ‘I had a dream you’re going to the Super Bowl.’ At first I got excited, then I was like, ‘Granddaddy, I play for the Jaguars. We have a long way to go to get to the Super Bowl,'” Marshall said. “God rest his soul, I got cut by the Jaguars and signed to the Broncos’ practice squad and went to the Super Bowl. He was right.”
It was relatively easy to predict Sunday’s AFC Championship Game matchup between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. Foreseeing Marshall’s rise to becoming a key cog in Denver’s NFL-leading defense is another story.
A 6-foot-1-inch, 240-pound inside linebacker who was second on the Broncos in tackles this season with 101, after leading the team with 113 tackles last season, Marshall was barely recruited coming out of Cimarron, when he weighed only 200 pounds and didn’t have a defined projected college position.
“I only had two offers, from (UNR) and Colorado State,” he said. “Bowling Green had a trip set up for me, but my mom said it was too far.
“We tried to get UNLV to recruit me, but they told my coach I wasn’t really a running back, I wasn’t really a tight end, and I wasn’t really a linebacker. My coach (Ron Smeltzer) told them, ‘Well, he’s an athlete.'”
Marshall went to UNR, where he was a four-year starter and bulked up before getting selected by Jacksonville in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
“Nobody said anything about my size, but I wasn’t highly touted,” he said.
Marshall saw action on special teams in five games his rookie year, when he was cut twice and spent time on the Jaguars’ practice squad. He was cut for the third and final time by Jacksonville at the end of training camp in 2013, a slight that still drives him.
“I hold a chip on my shoulder every day and try to prove myself every day,” said Marshall, 26. “Jacksonville told me I couldn’t play. I’m still hungry and still work hard because of that.”
After spending most of the 2013 season on Denver’s practice squad, Marshall, who was a Broncos fan growing up, was promoted to the active roster and played special teams in all three playoff games, including the Super Bowl.
“It was dope, man,” he said. “I definitely am glad I was even able to be part of it playing special teams.”
Marshall earned a starting role in 2014 and hasn’t looked back, emerging as Denver’s signal caller on defense and a team leader.
“He’s a big-time leader on this football team,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak told The Denver Post. “He’s a young player that all of a sudden the team started to gravitate to as we went through the season. Our guys respect him.”
Marshall attributes his ascent from Jaguars castoff to a Pro Bowl alternate this season to opportunity.
“I just needed some experience. I never played defense on Jacksonville. To me, experience is the best teacher,” he said. “Once I had that opportunity, I capitalized on it. I’ve always been a hard worker.”
He’s also willing to play through pain, which he did in the early part of this season after undergoing offseason Lisfranc surgery in which doctors placed two screws in his right foot to repair torn ligaments.
“I swear it was hurting pretty bad,” he said. “I didn’t know if or how I would make it through the season because it was pretty painful.”
Marshall said he felt a sharp pain in his foot shortly before the start of Denver’s season-opening win over the Baltimore Ravens, but got a numbing shot and played on it. In Week 2, he forced a Jamaal Charles fumble that was recovered by Bradley Roby and returned for a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of the Broncos’ improbable 31-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Marshall said the pain subsided after the third game and he didn’t miss a start.
Marshall and fellow inside linebacker Danny Trevathan were selected by their teammates as the Broncos’ 2015 Ed Block Courage Award winners, and Marshall also won the team’s Darrent Williams Good Guy Award, voted on by the Denver chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.
A vocal leader, Marshall made headlines this week when he told Pro Football Talk Live that the reason it’s so hard to cover Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is because “he pushes off and he gets away with it about 98 percent of the time.”
He also joined his Broncos teammates in accusing New England quarterback Tom Brady of “crying” to referees during an interview with Mile High Sports AM 1340, but has since toned down the rhetoric.
“I’m just trying to play this game. He’s a competitor. He competes,” Marshall said of Brady. “We definitely have to get after Brady and make him hold the ball. He gets the ball out pretty quick.”
As for his own future Hall of Fame quarterback, Marshall said it has been amazing playing with Peyton Manning.
“From when I first got here, he’s such a competitor and so smart. I learned a lot just watching him and how he works,” he said. “The guy’s a first ballot Hall of Famer and he works like it’s his first year in the league.”
Unlike the 2013 AFC title game, Marshall is hoping to make his presence known Sunday in Denver.
“This is huge. I can definitely make more of an impact than last time,” he said. “I’m all in. I’m striving to be my best and working hard every day. I’m hoping we can win this game. I love our chances.”
— Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.