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November 29, 2014

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Local product’s journey to Super Bowl with Broncos always included having to prove himself

Cimarron-Memorial High grad Brandon Marshall will play special teams for Denver Broncos, some four months after being cut by Jacksonville

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Ed Andrieski / AP

Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall reaches for a football during practice at the team’s training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Jan. 16, 2014. The Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 2 in Super Bowl 48.

Brandon Marshall

Nevada linebacker Brandon Marshall runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Brandon Marshall wasn’t good enough for an invitation to this football recruiting camp.

More locals in Super Bowl

Cimarron-Memorial High product Brandon Marshall isn’t the lone player with local ties in the Super Bowl.

Quinton Carter, a Cheyenne High graduate, will also be on the Denver sideline. Carter, a Broncos safety, has been injured since the third week of last season, but he is still highly thought of by the organization after making 56 tackles during his rookie season in 2011.

Marshall and Carter were Pop Warner teammates growing up in Las Vegas and were high school rivals — Cheyenne vs. Cimarron-Memorial used to be one of the city’s most-heated games. After the AFC Championship game, they took a picture in Super Bowl hats and shirts on the field. They went from the youth fields of Las Vegas to the biggest football game of them all.

“As soon as I got (to Denver), he was there to welcome me and show me a lot of love,” Marshall said of Carter.

Also, Korey Toomer from Shadow Ridge High is on the Seattle Seahawks’ roster, listed as reserve nonfootball injury.

During the summer before his senior year at Cimarron-Memorial High, Marshall wasn’t deemed a high enough college prospect to earn a spot at the Nike camp in Los Angeles. Mike Waters, his trainer at Phase 1 Sports, had to make a few calls to get Marshall, an undersized running back and linebacker, included.

“He’s always felt like he was the underdog. He always felt like he had to work harder than anyone else,” Waters said. “I remember him saying, ‘People won’t underestimate me when I get to the camp. I’ll prove myself.’”

That mentality helps explain Marshall’s journey to the one game everyone dreams of playing in — the Super Bowl.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Marshall is a key special teams player and reserve linebacker for the Denver Broncos, who play the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 2 in Super Bowl 48.

Reaching the Super Bowl seemed unlikely for Marshall in late August, when the second-year player was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of training camp. Marshall went from being released by one of the worst teams in football to going to the Super Bowl with a team playing to be the best.

Not bad for someone nobody wanted. Whether it was proving himself in high school to earn a spot at UNR, then becoming one of the Wolf Pack’s best all-time defenders, or through the struggles to stay in the NFL, he’s always thrived in the mentality of being an underdog.

“It was definitely tough (being released),” Marshall said. “You’re always the man on your high school or college team, but you have to learn to work that much harder to be the man here. It was definitely a learning experience. I was humbled. You have to be that much more precise in your game. It’s all about precision.”

Toward the end of Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, Marshall was talking on the sidelines with veteran Denver defensive back Champ Bailey, one of the game’s all-time best at his position. Bailey’s been in the league 15 years, never reaching a Super Bowl.

It was then that Marshall, in just his second year and months after being released, realized he’s one of the fortunate ones. Seconds away from clinching a spot in the game, the scene on the Denver sideline was pure jubilation, with grown men acting like children about to start the celebration of a lifetime.

“I was like, ‘We are going to the Super Bowl if we get this first down,’” he recalled thinking toward the end of the game. “Then, we got that first down, and it was all she wrote. Before the clock hit zero, we ran out onto the field. It was an amazing experience.

“You might win a championship in high school or college, but nothing compares to this. It’s so tough to get to a Super Bowl. Champ Bailey had been trying 15 years, and that’s one of the best players in the game.”

Marshall was picked in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Jacksonville, making two tackles in fives games last year. But it was anything but a smooth season, as he got a crash course on the ups and downs of professional football.

In a one-week stretch, he learned the hard way about the business of the NFL: He was released by Jacksonville on Oct. 27, 2012; re-signed Oct. 30; and then released again two days later. He eventually landed on the practice squad Nov. 5 and then on the active roster for the final two games of the season.

Marshall had offers from a few teams in early September after being released this season. He picked the Broncos over the Oakland Raiders because Denver had shown interest in him last season when he was released. Jacksonville also wanted him on its practice squad, but he thought a change of scenery in Denver would be for the best.

And he was a Broncos fan. He remembers rooting for Denver during its back-to-back Super Bowl championship season in the late 1990s while growing up in Las Vegas.

“It’s amazing, man. It’s really a dream come true,” he said. “It’s pretty neat getting to go to the Super Bowl with the team you grew up rooting for as a child. I remember that first Super Bowl against the Packers. That’s when I became a Broncos fans.”

Marshall’s initial 16 weeks this season with his favorite team involved no playing. As a member of the Broncos’ practice squad, he ran the other team’s defense in practice to get Peyton Manning and Denver’s high-scoring offense ready for the next opponent. Practice squad members don’t travel to road games.

He had a few goals during those practices: intercept a pass from the legendary Manning and prove to coaches he could play. He accomplished the latter.

“He is better than advertised. He is a mastermind,” Marshall said of Manning. “He is intelligent beyond measure, one of the most competitive guys in the NFL. I’ve been trying to intercept him in practice all year, but it hasn’t happened. I’ve got my hands on a few balls, but it’s so hard to (intercept) him.”

When Denver’s star linebacker, Von Miller, was lost for the season in late December with a knee injury, Marshall was promoted from the practice squad for the final game of the season. He received the news the day before Christmas.

“That was the best Christmas gift ever,” he said. “As soon as (Miller) went down, I knew there was a chance (to be put on the roster). They had been telling me they liked me a lot and really wanted me to play but didn’t have a spot for me. I respected that and kept working hard.”

That’s something Waters can attest to. Even when Marshall excelled at UNR — he was a four-year starter in college, registering 259 career tackles — Waters was in frequent communication, reminding him to continue playing with a chip on his shoulder. When he was cut by Jacksonville, the two exchanged messages.

“He was like, ‘This is my story. I'm used to this. Don’t worry,’” Waters said. “I told him the day he loses that underdog mentality is the day he’s done.”

He’s far from done — he’ll play in the game millions of people around the world watch.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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