D3′s Corner: Family, faith help Marrow press onWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment of a weekly series in which Staff Writer Mike Bauman will profile sixth-year Toledo senior cornerback Desmond Marrow for the 2011 season.
For sixth-year Toledo senior cornerback Desmond Marrow, giving up was never an option. Growing up on Glenaven Avenue on Youngstown’s south side, perseverance was a way to survive in a rough environment.
“Youngstown’s a real small city,” Marrow said. “It’s actually a tough city to grow up in. It’s real. I guess you could say we have a violent reputation or whatever. It was hard times growing up, but I was fortunate enough to have great parents. My dad Duane and my mom Pam, they kept me out of the inner city and trouble and things like that.”
Sometimes that literally meant keeping his son out of harm’s way, as Duane Marrow had to do one Sunday morning as the family was getting ready for church when Marrow was between 5 and 6 years old.
“All of a sudden, out of nowhere we hear gunshots,” Duane Marrow said. “And there’s a drive-by taking place early Sunday morning about 8 or 9 o’clock at a house across the street from us, and I’m actually in my son’s room and we’re hitting the ground. The bullets are going the other way, but obviously at the time I don’t know it.”
That would not be Marrow’s last brush with gun violence as a boy. The youngest of Duane’s four sons, Marrow liked to hang out with his older brothers when they were around.
At about 10 years old, Marrow was with his brother Duaine and cousins Kevin and Terrance at Cleveland Park when an argument broke out between some guys during a pickup game.
“One of them said, ‘I’ll be back,’” Marrow said. “You know, you don’t think nothing of it, so he comes back and aggressively just comes out his car and just starts shooting at this park with little kids and little babies. Everybody’s just running. Then, I just realized that street life just isn’t something you want to be a part of if you want to live your life.
“The guy came back and just started shooting at the park in broad daylight. It was wild. Some people live for that life, but it’s something I didn’t want to be a part of.”
Even if Marrow did think of straying down the wrong path, his family was there to guide him. In addition to his position as a senior correctional officer at Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio, Duane is also a minister and has traveled as far as Singapore to do mission work. Pam Marrow works as an enrollment specialist for MYCAP Head Start in Youngstown, having been with the program for the past 16 years.
“It was definitely our faith in God first,” Duane said. “Early on with the help of his mom and his family, we were able to keep Des on track and try to model good living — having good, practical morals and so forth. And so those were the things that kept him on track, and I think he also knew that his mother would kill him.”
Pam deals with kids on a daily basis at her job, but said her son did not give her much trouble going up.
“He was a very good kid,” Pam said. “He really was.”
‘I didn’t really like football’
Football was unavoidable for Marrow growing up in Youngstown. His father and uncle Brian played at South High under local legend Bob Stoops Sr. — uncle of Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops — and both went on to play at Wisconsin. Brian later played in the Canadian Football League, while Marrow’s uncle Vince played at Cardinal Mooney, finishing his college career at Toledo before playing in the NFL with five different teams.
“They didn’t pressure me to play football, but I knew it was there because everyone was, ‘Oh, your dad used to be this, your uncle used to be this, blah, blah, blah,’ so I played just because I was an athlete,” Marrow said. “I could do it, but other than that, I didn’t really like football.”
Marrow’s first love was basketball, but Duane always knew football would be his path.
“I knew early on that his ticket would be by way of football, and that’s something that honestly I told my wife for years,” Duane Marrow said. “Even when Desmond was little, I knew. I told her, ‘Honey, we will not pay for Des to go to school.’ I wasn’t being presumptuous or anything like that. I just knew what was in my son.”
Marrow said he really started to take football seriously during his first season playing varsity at Cardinal Mooney as a sophomore.
“I just started coming around, like, I just started getting bigger, started making plays,” Marrow said. “The more you do something, the better confidence you’ll get, so I started getting more confident in football.”
By the time he was a senior in 2005, Marrow had grown to 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, making him quite the mismatch as a defensive back. He had 10 interceptions for the Cardinals that season, earning First-Team All-Steel Valley Conference, First-Team All-Northeast Ohio-Inland, NEO-Inland Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team Division IV All-Ohio and Ohio Division IV Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors as Cardinal Mooney won the SVC and reached the Division IV state title game.
“You really had to bring it at Cardinal Mooney in high school, so I think that kind of helped him,” Duane said.
Marrow remembers the best advice his dad gave him.
“He said ‘Don’t try to be him; just be Desmond,’ and I think that’s the best advice ever,” Marrow said. “You don’t want to have to try to live up to your uncles and your dad. Some kids have that pressure. I can only imagine being, like, Michael Jordan’s son or something, but [he said to] just be me and play my hardest and give it my best. He’ll support me in anything I do.”
Duane had conversations with Pam to make sure he was not giving Marrow an uncomfortable standard to live up to and kept the lines of communication open with his son.
“I thought that would be very liberating for him to know that ‘Hey man, there’s no pressure on you. Be free within yourself, and we will support you in what you do,’” Duane said.
Rocky times with Rockets
In February of his senior year at Cardinal Mooney, Marrow committed to Toledo, eager to join a program that had both family ties with his Uncle Vince and a winning tradition. The Rockets won two Mid-American Conference Championships and two bowl games in five seasons prior to Marrow’s arrival in the fall of 2006, and Marrow was confident he would have a chance to get on the field during his freshman year.
Marrow saw action in nine games as a true freshman, starting one, but Toledo finished with a 5-7 record in 2006 after going 9-3 and winning the GMAC Bowl the previous year. In 2007, Marrow tore his hamstring, forcing him to take a medical redshirt and sit out the entire season.
Marrow returned to the field in 2008 as one of the Rockets starting cornerbacks, recording 30 total tackles, three pass breakups and one forced fumble through the first six games of the year. However, one week after he helped Toledo defeat Michigan 13-10 at the Big House, Marrow tore his ACL and meniscus on the opening kickoff at Northern Illinois, ending his season.
“I’ve got to tell you, going into that locker room and seeing Des, that was tough,” Duane said.
Duane and Pam, who try to make it to all of Marrow’s games, had yet to sit down in their seats and were still standing for the opening kickoff when Marrow got hurt.
“It was a tough moment for me being hurt because I was previously hurt before that and I had to sit out a season, but I think the best part about that whole experience was my parents,” Marrow said.
Both Duane and Pam leaned on their faith and projected hope to Marrow, who listened to their advice and persevered.
“We just encouraged him and just let him know that he can get through this,” Pam said. “He had that in him, that drive to just overcome anything, so we knew he would.”
Marrow misssd a second full season due to injury, sitting out all of 2009 while the Rockets played under new coach Tim Beckman. Despite installing both a new staff and a new philosophy at his new job, Beckman did not quit on Marrow.
“He knew that this coaching staff was behind him,” Beckman said. “We pushed him, there’s no question about it. I know at times Des probably thought, ‘Ah, I don’t know if this is for me or not. I don’t know if I’ll take my sixth year,’ but he has bought into this program and bought into the way we coach and the way that we push our players to be better men. He’s done an outstanding job.”
In 2010, Marrow made his return to the field and had his best season to date with Toledo. He tied for the team-lead with three interceptions, led the Rockets with nine pass deflections and six pass breakups and was fifth on the squad with 72 tackles. Toledo finished 8-5 (7-1 MAC) and reached a bowl game for the first time since 2005.
“I’m proud of him because I think last year was kind of a get back into it type [of season] because he’d been out a year,” Beckman said. “It’s tough to leave this game and come back.”
In January, Marrow got the news that his application to receive a sixth-year extension waiver from the NCAA after missing two full seasons from injuries had been granted, giving him one final opportunity to win the MAC Championship and bowl victory he has been seeking since arriving on the UT campus five years ago. The Rockets were picked to win both the MAC West Division and the MAC Championship in the conference’s preseason poll last month.
“We have so much built-up anticipation on this team,” Marrow said. “Everyone has good thoughts for the season. Everyone’s upbeat, positive. People expect stuff out of us this year. It’s a weird position for me. I know being here for six years, there’s not much really expected out of us. We just expect to win a couple games here and there, beat BG and we’re content, but not with coach Beckman.
“The feeling around here is we want to win. We want to win big. We want rings, all that. Even in the classroom, we want to get the highest grades, so we just want to win.”
And while the path Marrow has taken to this point was not as he envisioned it, he is happy with how things turned out, even though it means taking another season of old man jokes from his teammates. After all, quitting was not an option. Not for someone who has persevered since childhood.
“Most people are like, ‘Why didn’t you give it up and quit and find something else?’” Marrow said. “I was like, ‘I didn’t want to quit because this is my dream. I never wanted to give up on it.’ Faith was all I had, but really, that’s all I needed. I’m here now.”