Halfway through his first season at USC, cornerback Iman “Biggie” Marshall has learned that there are things in college football that are going to be out of his control.
After a shocking head coaching change and being on the losing end of a few meaningful catches this season, Marshall has embraced the one thing that he knows he can manage: his work ethic.
Marshall has stayed and worked with assistant defensive coach Drew Pearson after every practice throughout the season to improve his technique, endurance and ability to finish plays. The two seem to work equally hard in their sessions, as Pearson plays the role of the wide receiver and challenges Marshall to be physical with him off the line and throughout the route.
“It’s the sign of a guy who wants to be great. He’s not satisfied with where he’s at yet. He wants to be great, and he works at his craft,” said interim head coach Clay Helton. “There is a fine line between overworking yourself, but there have been a lot of guys who have spent a lot of hours on this practice field that have gone on to do great things. I think that Biggie wants to fall in line with those guys.”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound freshman had already been known for his physical play at Long Beach Poly where he made the 2014 USA Today All-USA first team, and was widely considered the top high school cornerback in the entire country.
The amount of work Marshall has put in since arriving at USC has certainty impressed veteran players like redshirt junior Zach Banner, who has acted as a mentors for the younger guys.
“He’s a really hard worker and humble kid who is always out here doing extra after practice,” Banner said Wednesday. “He’s a really good player who is going to be really special.”
Marshall said that being around veteran defensive backs like Kevon Seymour, Adoree’ Jackson, linebacker Su’a Cravens and safety Chris Hawkins has given him a unique opportunity to learn and develop as a cornerback.
“The adjustment has been really cool. Just take all that knowledge and soak it in,” Marshall said. “A lot of the older dudes have been bringing me along and helping me out through this whole transition, and I really appreciate that.”
Marshall has been thrown into the fire since he started at USC, stepping into his current role for Kevon Seymour, who was injured at the time.
Additionally, injuries to wide receivers such as Darreus Rodgers and Steven Mitchell resulted in Jackson playing more snaps on offense; and Marshall as cornerback. Marshall leads all USC DBs with 280 snaps and has allowed only eight catches on 16 targets, with one interception.
“If you ask me one thing about Iman that has enabled him to play early, I would say it’s his competitiveness,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “He’s a guy who wants to go play man to man. He wants to go make the big tackle on third and three.”
Cameron Smith, who also became a defensive starter as a freshman, is excited about playing alongside Marshall in the coming years at USC.
“Marshall is a baller, obviously, because we have seen what he has done,” Smith said. “I think that is one of the tougher positions, to come in and play at corner, because of the athleticism and football IQ you need back there. He’s doing a great job, and he’s going to keep getting better. He’s going to be huge in the coming years.”
Marshall had another impressive practice Wednesday when he intercepted Cody Kessler’s pass to receiver George Katrib and had a few pass breakups after. But despite his hard work, Marshall believes that it will never be enough to prepare him for the games. But, Marshall says that he stays with coaches after every practice to keep improving his fundamentals and his physicality so that he’ll be in the best position possible to make the next play.
“You know at the position I’m playing, you can’t be perfect and that you’re never going to have a perfect outing,” Marshall said. “There are players who have been in the NFL for 10 years who have become so technically sound at the position, who still mess up a little bit. And then things can happen wrong. So, that’s why coach and I do as much as possible to be prepared.”
Justin Wilcox said that he’s told Marshall that he can be “disappointed, just not discouraged,” by those “up for grabs” passes that he’s come short on this season in games such as Stanford and Notre Dame this season. But Wilcox added that the Division I atmosphere hasn’t been too big for Marshall by any means, and says that the ferocious way “Biggie” approaches every practice is going to translate into an incredibly bright future for the freshman.
“If it is a 50-50 ball and they make a great catch, ‘hey man’, I’m still going to put him out there again because I believe in him,” Wilcox said. “Just like I do the other guys, I believe he’s going to make those plays when it’s his day. He has got a lot of room to grow still. But, I’m glad he is with us, and we are going to keep continuing to push him.”