The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 25, 2014

Former WVU QB Marshall credits Brashear coach for changing his life

MORGANTOWN — A couple of weeks back, the Western Pennsylvania Hall of Fame held a little induction ceremony, and among the inductees were Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, West Virginia University assistant football coach Tom Bradley and Sonny Vacarro, the man who signed Michael Jordan to his first Nike contract.

There was also Ron Wabby, who may just belong in the West Virginia University Hall of Fame, too.

Wabby may not be familiar to you. He’s a high school football coach in Pittsburgh.

His connection to WVU?

He’s the man who sent them a couple of quarterbacks named Major Harris and Rasheed Marshall, each from the inner-city high school Brashear that he coached for 26 years.

For that he is a Hall of Fame coach, but Ron Wabby is much more than that.

Marshall, who quarterbacked the Mountaineers under Rich Rodriguez from 2001 to 2004, will tell you that and tried to the morning after the induction ceremony when he went on Facebook with the following tribute:

“I think it’s safe to say this guy basically helped change my life. He was so instrumental in helping me take that step to the next level. He believed in me early on, presented me with an opportunity and took me in as one of his own,” Marshall began.

“He’s helped SO many people (athletes, non-athlete, white, black, Hispanic ... didn’t matter) and has been so positive and influential over the years. I can’t even think of where to begin with the number of players who would’ve probably never had a chance at higher education without athletics, but he worked and helped guys earn scholarships to major universities across the country.

“Can’t thank this guy enough for everything he’s done for teammates, friends, myself, families and my neighborhood. The Legendary Ron Wabby ... THANKS WAB!! Love you man!!”

It did not take long for Wabby to offer an answer to his one-time quarterback.

“You know how I feel about you guys; without the great players that I have coached, I would not have been there on Saturday. You and the other players have touched my life in so many ways and have made my life complete.”

That exchange, in and of itself, says a lot, but it didn’t stop there; it was soon followed by yet another tribute, this not from an athlete, but from Debra Marshall, Rasheed’s appreciative mother.

“My HEARTFELT THANK YOU Coach Wabby and may God’s choicest blessings be yours, for all you’ve done for my son and others!!! I’m sure your belief in these guys, your courage and integrity were not well received but you persisted!!! I hope the fruit of your labors has been as great of a return to you, as the benefit in lives changed forever for the good!”

Again, it did not take long for the coach to answer.

“Mrs. Marshall, thank you! And all I can say was that it was a pleasure and I cherish every moment. Your son and the many other great men I touched will stay in my heart forever.”

These were warm and emotional exchanges between people whose lives had intersected on a football field and had them grow far beyond the confines of goal lines.

And so it was that a phone call was placed to Rasheed Marshall, who had further insights to offer on what a special football coach meant to a kid and his family.

“He’s a city teacher, city coach, a little bit different from being out in the suburbs,” Marshall began.

Brashear is in a district of Pittsburgh you don’t see on Chamber of Commerce pamphlets.

“It’s a little different breed of kids you are working with and, for whatever reason, he understood that,” Marshall continued. “He’d been around it for years and years and years. I think he had a good understanding how you communicate with these kids, how you handle them, how you interact with them.

“Whatever it was, it worked. People gravitated toward him. It didn’t have to be athletes. There were plenty of students who gravitated toward him. He understood and wanted to help you out.”

His approached won over Marshall, just as it had Major Harris before him, two players with similar skills.

“I just felt, from the first time I met him, he wasn’t giving me anything. He was making me work for it,” Marshall explained. “Once I got to know him, he would sit me down and talk to me … just teach me. He showed me the ins and outs and how things are supposed to be done in life. It extended past sports.

“Guys growing up in the city, they might not have that father figure around. They might not have that older male role model or leader that you can follow. He filled that void and I respected it, man.”

He was for Marshall, for so many others, the male role model they needed.

“I think automatically with football you already have that brotherhood, that come-together family atmosphere you have in the sport,” Marshall said. “Add that to the position I played, quarterback, who obviously has the most contact with the coach, you are the leader and you spend extra time together watching film or putting together a game plan, it naturally brought us closer.

“Once things started to pan out and we could see how the future was going, we got even closer. We had banquets to attend together. Everything just played out.

“He cared. He was genuine. A lot of coaches might not go the extra effort to really help you out and get you to the next effort, but you always get the one special coach like Ron Wabby.”

See, Ron Wabby was one of those high school football coaches who do things to help their kids advance, rather than to expect their kids to do things to help them advance. It was “what can I do for you?”, not “what can you do for me?”

“It takes a special guy to do those things. I mean, he’s not making that much money, but it came from the heart and something he had a passion to do. I’m thankful for having him as my coach,” Marshall said.

As important, Ron Wabby was willing to find a way to get his kids to college. Too often, kids who play in the inner city have no escape route.

“Again, coming from the city, you are not going to get a lot of exposure. You are not going to get a lot of publicity, so he worked to get his guys out there,” Marshall said.

“We had a handful of guys who went down the wrong path. Those are the struggles that came with coaching these kids. It extended past sports. He was always trying to help you out, making sure things were in line for you. He did everything he could do to help you out,” Marshall noted.

And that is what a mother appreciates.

“They had met many times before, at football games and things like that, and she knew how instrumental he was to get the ball started for me,” Marshall said. “For her, from a financial standpoint of not having to pay for college, because it was through his work and his connections and the time he took out to put highlight tapes together to get the word out or bring recruiters in and have me sit in front of them … that was a blessing he placed upon her.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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