Sep 3, 2013
For the folks in little Pineview, Ga., where Nick Marshall grew up, and in Rochelle, where he became a football star, last Saturday was a big day.
Wilcox County High School, a 1A school with 350 students in grades 9-12, has sent other players off to play college football - at Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina and elsewhere. It even has sent one to the NFL. But this was different.
Marshall would take the field on national television as Auburn's starting quarterback. And that was a big deal.
Mark Ledford, who coached Marshall at Wilcox County and is a friend and mentor still, coached his team to a 41-32 victory over Wilkinson County on Friday night. On Saturday morning, wearing Auburn colors, he climbed into the car with his wife Ginger, daughter Lauren and son Landon and headed for Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Nick Marshall, you see, is like family, too.
"If there was anybody more nervous than me in those 80-something thousand folks, I don't know who it was," Ledford said. "When my daughter pitches in softball, that's a nerve-wracking thing. When a kid you coached is the quarterback for Auburn University, that's nerve-wracking, too.
"When they called his name out as starter, we got a little emotional. There was so much pressure on him. That's what made me nervous. The good thing is Nick Marshall wasn't nervous about it."
It was Ledford's first trip to Jordan-Hare since 1992 when, as a junior at Georgia Southwestern University, he and some friends had made the drive to see Auburn play Georgia. On the way back, they stopped to visit some friends. That's where Ledford met Ginger, who would become his wife a year or so later.
This time, he and his wife made the trip together with their children. They visited with members of Marshall's family. They looked around the campus. They went to Tiger Walk and saw Marshall near the front.
"We had a great time," Ledford said. "Those Auburn people and Auburn fans are some good folks."
Finally, it was time. The game was under way. Marshall went through some rough spots early. He overthrew some passes. But as the game went on, he got more comfortable and more efficient.
"I think he did exactly what he was asked to do," Ledford said. "The great thing I saw was the running game. You let those guys do the work and that takes a lot of pressure of the quarterback. They have some guys capable of shouldering the load.
"Nick, as he gets into it, will be able to do more. I thought he played as much under control as I've ever seen him play. That's a tribute to what the coaches have done."
Ledford met an old coaching pal, too. He and Dooly County head coach Jimmy Hughes worked together in Cordele for seven years. Hughes coached freshman Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who had an impressive debut.
"We played against him two or three years," Ledford said. "He dislocated my 175-pound center's shoulder. I was proud of Montravius. He's a really big guy with quick-twitch muscles."
But Ledford's focus was on Marshall, who led Wilcox County to a state championship in 2009 and overcame serious adversity in going from Georgia to junior college and finally to Auburn.
"If anybody is concerned about him overthrowing people, that's not a worry," Ledford said. "That's going to come with time. The main thing I was concerned about was him trying to fit the ball somewhere it wasn't supposed to go. I didn't see that at all. He looked very confident."
Marshall's coaches at Auburn believe he'll get better with each game. He'll be the starter again Saturday when Auburn plays Arkansas State.
And Ledford, who did so much to help him in his journey, will be there to watch again.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: