Saskatchewan·MEET THE RIDERS

Small town, big dreams: Nick Marshall finds stardom in Rider Nation

Regina is more than 2,600 kilometres northwest of Nick Marshall's hometown, but the Roughriders defensive back says the communities have a lot more in common than you'd think.

Roughriders defensive back is quickly becoming one of the best players in the CFL

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Nick Marshall flexes at practice on June 10, 2019. (Peter Mills/CBC)

This piece was originally published on June 13, 2019.

Regina is more than 2,600 kilometres northwest of Nick Marshall's hometown, but he says they have a lot more in common than you'd think.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back grew up in Pineview, Ga. — a small town about 200 kilometres southeast of Atlanta.

He hasn't been in Canada long, but the 26-year-old is already considered one of the best corners in the CFL. He was recently picked No. 42 on TSN's list of the top 50 players for 2019.

Marshall recently spoke to CBC's Peter Mills about his love for making big plays, his love for his mom and son, and how some Riders fans might just be wearing a piece of Pineview on their heads.

Defensive back Nick Marshall has done something very few professional football players could accomplish. In this episode, we'll hear how he went from avoiding interceptions to catching them and why Saskatchewan feels a lot like his hometown. 12:44

A knack for the pick-six

Marshall intercepted a pass at practice and took it to the end zone for a touchdown, something he did twice in his first season with the Riders.

"I feel great doing it. I take what I do from practice and try to bring it to the field.

"If you have a great … practice, it should come to you easy in a game so that's what I put my mind around — just focus out here on the field and do the little things, and the plays will come our way."

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Nick Marshall (3) celebrates his touchdown against the B.C. Lions during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver on Aug. 25, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

1 year in Rider Nation

"What stands out to me is my growth in this defence, and now I'm able to play faster than I was last year. Last year, I was kind of learning on the run but right now I'm playing with no hesitation, like full speed, no thinking at all.

"I believe that's a great step for me."

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Nick Marshall at practice on June 10, 2019. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Living in Saskatchewan

"It's fine, just because I'm from a small town just like … here. It's quiet, ain't too much to do, so I'm pretty good with this.… I can just stay in and get done what I came out here for."

Growing up in Pineview

"It's probably 500-600 people there, so small town … but at the end of the day I just felt like it was great for me. It kept me out of trouble."

Marshall gains yards after an interception during second half CFL action against the Edmonton Eskimos in Regina on Oct. 8, 2018. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Pineview crops grow Rider fan hats

"They're big on [growing] watermelons and cantaloupes down south where I'm from. That's why I say [Saskatchewan] is a great fit for me."

Making it big for mom

"Coming from a small town, it's hard, because there's not too many people coming from your town that made it out. You gotta really find your role model to see who you look up to.

"My momma was my role model. I looked up to her and … it motivated me to help her out. My mom is part of my big dream.

"She just basically kept me with a level head. Any time I needed or wanted anything, she was always there. If I got in trouble, she was the one who disciplined me. Big shout out to her to get me to this point right now."

Distance doesn't deter mom

"If we got a game on — you can go look on my social media — she's trying to figure out, like, what channel it's on or streaming live, or where she can go to watch her baby play. That's good. That's more motivation for me."

Marhsall's mom hasn't been to a game in Saskatchewan yet.

"She'll make it out here this year, though. Me and her are planning on it ... hopefully before it gets cold."

Raising a 3-year-old from afar

"He's a junior. Nick Deshawn Marshall Jr. He's a smart kid. He looks just like me. Watching him grow up, I just want to be that mentor to him so that he don't ever need anything, or look to anyone else for help."

Being away for him during the football season is "very hard, but it's just something I have to sacrifice for me and him.… It's on me to provide for him, so I made that choice to come out here. At the end of the day, it will be best for us in the long run.

"Before games I call him to see [him]. He's in Florida. He's knows which team I play for. If I ask him, he'll just be like, 'Daddy play with green team.'"

Building relationships in Saskatchewan

Marshall spends time warming up with teammate and friend Ed Gainey. (Peter Mills/CBC)

"I started with [defensive back] Mike Edem. Me and him built a relationship from the beginning of training camp last year. We've got the same similarities, we know how to figure each other out.

"Kyran Moore, me and him are good friends, Ed Gainey, Christion Jones — all those guys are good family to me. Everybody is just like a brotherhood out here. Everyone is family."

The best athletes

In 2014, the sports information directors from the SEC (Southeastern Conference in the NCAA) were polled on the best athlete in the league. It was a tie between Auburn's Nick Marshall and Alabama's Christion Jones.

"That's crazy," Marhsall says, laughing. "I didn't even know that, but it's a true statement because Christion Jones — he's an athletic guy, he's elusive, he's quick on his feet, and he's an exciting player to see with the ball in his hands.

"I did not know at all [that Jones was on the Riders] until I first got here, and then I looked on the roster and I seen him. You know how the Auburn-Alabama thing is, but we don't let that come between us."

In this Nov. 1, 2014, file photo, Nick Marshall — then with Auburn — practices before an NCAA college football game against Mississippi. (Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press)

Hoop dreams

In high school. Marshall put up 36 points playing against now Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

"We ended up playing him in the second round of the playoffs, but they did get the W. I played against him and then I also played with him in the summer league over the AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] travelling ball. It was great to get that experience in and we still friends to this day.

"People said I had a chance [to make the NBA] but at the end of the day I love the football first, so that's what I'm sticking with."

In this Feb. 21, 2015, file photo, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (Julio Cortez/The Associated Press)

Big on broccoli

Marshall told the Piffles Podcast his favourite vegetable is broccoli. Green is the colour, but why broccoli?

"I don't know what it is. It don't really have a taste — it's just basically like water. I guess I get my hydration from broccoli and celery. I was brought up big on that, so that's my favourite vegetable."

A big birthday

Marshall will celebrate his 27th birthday the day before the Riders home opener on Canada Day.

"I'm going to celebrate mine right here between these white lines and give these fans something to look forward to on this first home opener. I want to get me at least a pick-six. But if not, just as long as we get a win, I'm OK with that."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Roughriders take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. CST.


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About the Author

Peter Mills is an associate producer at CBC Saskatchewan and the host of the Meet The Riders podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TweeterMillsCBC. Do you have a story idea? Email peter.mills@cbc.ca.

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