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Marshall, Mountaineers eye BCS bowl

8/20/2004

After shopping for nearly an hour, Rasheed Marshall had one foot out the door of Wal-Mart. The West Virginia quarterback had made it. He was home free. He had gone out in public in his hometown of Pittsburgh without being recognized.

Then the little boy shouted.

"Look, it's LeBron James!"

The young, black, well-dressed 23-year-old stopped in his tracks and laughed.

"Oh man, you don't understand," Marshall said. "Other than people coming up to me asking me if I'm Rasheed Marshall, people ask me if I'm LeBron James.I don't see the resemblance, but I guess other people do."

Even his own mother admits her son looks like the basketball star, with one small exception.

"I think LeBron's ears are just a little bigger than Rasheed's," Debra Marshall said.

Picked to win the conference this season with Miami and Virginia Tech nothing but a memory in the Big East, No. 11 West Virginia is a media darling and Marshall is getting recognized as someone even more flattering -- Rasheed Marshall.

Fans surround him for his autograph. Flashbulbs go off around him. He's so big husbands even give their wives permission to get hugs and kisses from Marshall.

"People really look up to Mountaineer football," said Marshall, modestly explaining his popularity. "People pretty much come up to me wherever I'm at."

Marshall, entering his third season as the starter, has the opportunity to be the league's premier quarterback and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez is ready to unleash him.

"We're going to let him loose a little bit more than we have in the past year," said Rodriguez. "He's going to be one of the most exciting players in our league."

Marshall, who was named second-team all Big East as a junior, has accumulated 1,179 career rushing yards, including 666 his sophomore season. He is just 383 yards away from breaking former Syracuse star Donovan McNabb's record for most career rushing yards by a quarterback in the Big East.

"With the expectations of me running a lot this year, I don't think it should be a problem," Marshall said.

West Virginia returns seven offensive linemen with starting experience and receiver Chris Henry, who had over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. If that's not enough, Marshall says he's faster than ever. In the winter, Marshall ran a 4.36 40-yard dash, which gives him Michael Vick-like speed to go with a passing touch that threw for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.

"He's got to be one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the country," said West Virginia strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis. "As far as total athleticism, he's a rarity."

About the only thing Marshall can't do quickly is gain weight.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds -- or 191 on a good day, as Marshall likes to say -- he's tried just about anything and everything to bulk up. "Everything except steroids," he says.

"The doctors and trainers say I have a high metabolism, so pretty much I gotta eat three times more than the normal person to help keep the calories. I could eat a big Subway sandwich and go walk up the steps and burn all that off."

Barwis assures that even if Marshall may look skinny, he can hang with anyone pound-for-pound in the weight room.

"He's about as muscular as you can get," said Barwis, who has Marshall bench pressing 300 pounds and taking in up to 4,200 calories per day.

But he's more than just a workout warrior. He just gets what being a quarterback is all about.

"Rasheed understands playing the position he does, you're subject to criticism, just like the coach is," said Rodriguez. "Rasheed has handled that as well as any quarterback I've ever coached."

After leading his team to a 6-1 conference record and a Big East co-championship last season, Marshall is ready to take West Virginia a step further, especially with a BCS bowl game spot up for grabs. He's humble, yet confident. And he's ready to show what he's got.

"It's one of those things where it's a good feeling knowing that you have the opportunity to step into the spotlight and shine, and you can't ask for much more than that."