The Times West Virginian

September 20, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Rasheed Marshall makes transition from field to booth

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It seemed to Rasheed Marshall, really, like the simplest of ways to combine all that made up his entire existence, doing this color commentary gig on Root Sports in the game West Virginia University was playing Georgia State last week.

He was right at home with the venue, Milan Puskar Stadium, where he quarterbacked the Mountaineers, and he would be in front of a camera talking into a microphone, something he’d done how many times in interviews as a star player.

Certainly he would look good for the camera, having become first a physical trainer who kept himself in spectacular shape and second a fashion model.

Avoiding a rush from Virginia Tech was the difficult part of the game he had begun playing at Pittsburgh’s Brashear High School. Talking about it always had been the easiest part.

“I always had things in my mind that I wanted to do in life, and I felt this was the perfect time to do it,” he said this week after having finally made his debut as a color commentator. “Something about television intrigued me. I liked being in front of a camera. I liked pictures and all that stuff.”

First, of course, he had to get the playing part of it out of his life.

He had been a good enough player at WVU to be drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49ers, not as a quarterback but as a receiver/kick returner. He played one year in the NFL, even signing with the hometown Steelers and then the Rams after the 49ers cut him.

He made a year of it, but not a career, and gave the Arena Football League a shot before deciding it was time to get on with his life in the real world.

Marshall did so with no regrets.

“I was always one of those guys who knew that day was coming. I didn’t want to be a guy who spent the next 10 years of his life trying to chase the dream,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t going to quit on it, but I knew the reality of how things work. You can try and try and try, but that league is so elite. It’s The League. Chances are very slim.”

Marshall put together a successful business in physical training in Pittsburgh and was keeping his eyes and ears open for other chances, much as former teammate and linebacker Grant Wiley had done as he went into art and acting and music.

“He was instrumental in pushing me forward to take those steps,” Marshall said. “I would email him on and off saying, ‘Hey, Grant, let me know what it’s like. Do you think I could do it?’”

Wiley would be encouraging.

“He would get back to me saying, ‘They would love you,’” Marshall said. “Then random people would say things to me like, ‘Your body is in good shape’; ‘You are good looking’; ‘You need to get into modeling.’

“The more I heard that, the more I would be thinking, ‘Wow! This is a side I need to get into.’”

One of his physical training clients introduced him into modeling in Pittsburgh and led him to the Pittsburgh Talent Group as his agency.

“From there it was all fireworks. I lucked out on that first job out of the box and got a Dick’s Sporting Goods ad, modeling Under Armor clothing,” Marshall said. “Dick’s Sporting Goods was one of the main companies I wanted to work with and I pinched myself, thinking, ‘Man, this would be a dream come true if I could ever get in with them,’ then first thing out of the box, there it is.

“One thing about life, you never know where it is going to take you.”

From there it was a short step to contacting all the local television stations around Pittsburgh to see if there was any way he could get in doing games, either college or high school, but while everyone was interested, no one had anything open.

“One day I checked for voice messages, and one of the producers for Root Sports had left a voice message saying they had an opportunity come about with WVU versus Georgia State, and we would like to have you on as a color commentator,” Marshall said.

“Of course I’m ‘cheesing’ ear to ear at this point. Of course I’m going to do it,” Marshall said. “So I called him back immediately, let him know I’d be on and from there it was a go.”

So, here he is, right where he belongs, yet ...

“It wasn’t as easy as I thought,” he said of his first experience. “But you know, I wasn’t the same player as a freshman as I was as a senior. I showed potential, but I didn’t reach my potential right out of the box.”

Somehow you knew it wouldn’t be.

Maybe because of a day one spring training with the Cincinnati Reds in Al Lopez Field when their Hall of Fame-to-be play-by-play broadcaster Marty Brennaman was doing his first big league game as Al Michaels’ replacement.

Brennaman opened his broadcast saying, “Hello, everyone, and welcome to Al Michaels Field.”

Mistakes happen when nerves are at work.

“Being in the booth, there were rough patches. I’m my biggest critic. I strive to be perfect. I strive to be the best I can be no matter what I do,” Marshall said. “At the same time, I think I showed enough that there were producers who felt I did enough to earn another shot.

“The first quarter was a little shaky. It was like being in a football game. There were nerves at first, but I settled down, and I felt by the fourth quarter I’d done it before.”

What, though, would make it so hard for someone who came in with everything going for him?

“The hardest thing was the mind games. Look at it this way. The two of us are in front of a television, and we’re watching the game. I can talk about it back and forth. But once you know your voice is being broadcast over the air; you have a headset on; there are thousands of people listening to you; there’s a camera in front of you. That does something to you.

“As the game went on I realized that and made conscientious effort to focus a little more, speak clearly, all the things I learned along the way in front of the camera or giving an interview, so instead of me reaching and trying too hard, I just sat back, took a deep breath and that was that.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.