- Courtesy of John S. Christensen/Jasper Sailfin Photography
By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 13, 2014
Lawrence Marshall woke up on July 13, 2013 ready to fulfill his high school community service requirement. The Michigan football commit spent many of his summer days doing just that.
This time he noticed something peculiar: a man in the park he was cleaning was wearing an Omega Psi Phi shirt — the same fraternity his father, Lawrence Marshall Sr., had been a part of.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end couldn’t get that image out of his head. Throughout the day, he kept thinking about his father. Not for any particular reason, but even in the most mundane of times, he returned to that image.
After completing his service, Marshall went to a family cookout at his uncle’s house. Several of his friends and closest family members would be there, though his father never planned on not attending.
As soon as Marshall got to the barbeque he thought of the same omega symbol. He couldn’t get his father out of his head. He didn’t know why. The image lingered and lingered.
That’s when his phone rang.
Marshall went to the front porch and sat with his hands over his eyes. Tears rushed down his face uncontrollably. He was speechless.
The call was from his cousin Aaron Marshall, 31, whom Marshall considers to be his best friend. Aaron was calling to tell Marshall his father had been found dead at his house after having complications with diabetes, a disease Lawrence Sr. had for many years, but nothing had ever come of it. Marshall didn’t know what to feel.
“That was the worst day ever. It was so hard. It was one of the worst days I’ve ever had,” Marshall said.
People coming to the party looked at him with a peculiar face. His friends were joking with him, saying, “Lawrence, you mad your girlfriend broke up with you or something?”
But he wasn’t saying a word.
After the initial shock had died down, Marshall asked his grandma to take him home, and in the car, he finally broke the devastating news. He couldn’t muster the strength to go back to the barbeque even to tell his mom — his grandma had to do the painful task.
Lawrence Sr. had shaped Marshall. He was the one who introduced Marshall to football and made him stick with it. He was the one who helped keep him disciplined inside the classroom and out.
But he was gone now. Marshall didn’t know what to do. Aaron was out of town, but he was on the next flight home.
“It was hard on him, as it would be on anybody,” Aaron said. “It was hard for me not to be there for him, but in a way he needed to deal with it on his own.
“It was good that I wasn’t there because he was able to let out his emotions and cope with it himself. I got home the next day and we handled a lot of stuff together.”
Aaron had let Marshall know it was going to be OK and gave him the support he needed. It wasn’t easy to move on for Marshall, but he felt this was a sign from God.
Marshall had to cope with this himself, and he found that with football.
Less than two months later, Marshall’s wounds reopened. This time his grandmother had called his mom at 5:30 a.m. urging Marshall and his mom to rush to the hospital.
Marshall’s grandfather had always had a history of being in and out of the hospital. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to be there. This time, though, it had a sense of urgency.
Marshall and his mom rushed to the hospital and found his grandfather lying in a bed, receiving CPR. He had just suffered a heart attack.
The doctors asked the Marshalls what they wanted to do. They could either let the doctors continue attending to him, or allow him to try and recover on his own, hoping for a miracle. Marshall’s grandma had elected for the latter — she didn’t want her husband to suffer anymore.
After the decision, the doctors allowed the family to enter the room. Marshall stood by his grandfather’s side, grasping his hand. He was watching the electrocardiographic heart monitor beep and beep. Things seemed normal for a second.
But then Marshall witnessed a second tragedy right in front of him — he watched the machine go flatline.
“I just saw someone next to me die,” Marshall said. “I was thinking ‘What else could happen to me?’ ”
Added Aaron: “He said it was one of the toughest things he ever did, because he was there when they actually pulled the plug. For a 17-year old kid to see that right after having to bury his father … Lawrence has seen a lot.”
Marshall had always been one of the best football players in the area. His talent and work ethic comes from his father, who always pushed him to play and allowed Marshall’s older brothers and cousins to be relentless with him when playing.
Lawrence Sr. knew his son would get beaten up but also knew it would benefit him in the long run. And it clearly did.
The one constant throughout Marshall’s football career was now gone. He never played a game without his father or grandfather watching.
Football has always been an escape for Marshall. And it was only fitting that just days after his grandfather’s death, Southfield High School would be playing state power, rival Detroit Cass Tech in the season opener.
Moments before the game, Marshall, who wore an R.I.P. patch under his eye, looked up into the sky and asked his father and grandfather to look over him.
Southfield ended up losing the battle, 17-16, but Marshall felt relieved. He felt, despite the loss, his loved ones were looking over him and were proud of the effort he put in.
It reflected in his play throughout the year. Marshall completed his senior season with 68 tackles, eight sacks, 18 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a safety.
“If you watch him on the football field and throughout life, he has that kind of chip on his shoulder, understands that it’s bigger than him,” Aaron said. “He’s playing for not only himself, but for his family and to keep the legacy going.”
Added Marshall: “I picked up a lot of weight this season, and I got way better with my hands and more explosive. I left a mark on the QB. Last year when I hit the QB, he just fell and got sacked. When I hit the QB this year, he either fumbled the ball or something happened.”
Something happened because Marshall was playing for his father. He was playing for his grandfather. He was playing because football kept them together.
After Marshall’s successful senior season, questions about his commitment to Michigan were growing. Marshall had committed to Michigan May 11, 2013, well before the Wolverines’ season. Michigan went 7-6 and was struggling to hold other committed recruits, while in-state rival Michigan State won the Rose Bowl.
After all, Marshall had decommitted from a university once before. The defensive end decommitted from Ohio State in February less than a week after giving Urban Meyer his pledge.
“I was in Urban Meyer’s office and he was showing me all his rings,” Marshall said.
The rings were enough for Marshall to commit on the spot. But behind the urging of Aaron to consider other schools and see what other schools had to offer, the shine of bling soon started to fade.
The loyalty of the Michigan staff gave Marshall a new perspective on recruiting. He wanted more of a family atmosphere, and that’s exactly what the Wolverines offered.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke and other staff members made sure to do anything to help Marshall get through his family emergencies. The coaching staff attended the funerals and did everything they could to keep Marshall’s outlook positive. The lackluster season didn’t matter to Marshall because a homely feeling meant everything to him.
“Michigan had my back: That’s why I stayed committed,” Marshall said. “Though they had a bad season, their loyalty to me was unbelievable when I was in a time of need. They came to the funeral. They don’t have to do that. All they have to do is send a text saying ‘Sorry for your loss.’ It really touched me that they were there for me and was a big reason that I stayed committed to Michigan.”
Marshall signed his letter of intent to Michigan on Feb. 5 and wants to make an instant impact. Not just for himself or Michigan, but for his father, grandfather and anyone who carries the Marshall name.
Because if Marshall knows anything, it’s that his family won’t always be there. Because somewhere that image of a man in an Omega Psi Phi shirt still lingers in his mind. Because somehow Marshall has to cope.