Physical Ducks' soph runner could be every-down back in '13

EUGENE — It has been almost a decade since Oregon entered a season with a massive question mark in its backfield. From Terrence Whitehead to Jonathan Stewart to Jeremiah Johnson to LeGarrette Blount to LaMichael James to Kenjon Barner, the Ducks had a good idea who would carry the ball.

This year, however, who will be their featured running back?

Junior De’Anthony Thomas can be devastating with the ball in his hands. However, Thomas is so slightly built (5-9, 175 pounds) it’s hard to imagine him taking 20 carries per game.

And while much has been made about prep superstar Thomas Tyner, a true freshman from Aloha High, Tyner has never played a down of collegiate football and has had some injury problems.

That leaves sophomore Byron Marshall as the frontrunner to be Oregon’s every-down back.

“It’s exciting,” Marshall says, of the possibility of being the starter. “A lot of work needs to be put in to earn that job and earn that. I’m looking to take it all in — go into camp, work hard, earn a job. Whatever the new role might be, I’m ready for it.”

Marshall gained experience playing behind Barner last year as a true freshman. In 11 games, he rushed 87 times for 447 yards (5.1 average) and scored four touchdowns.

“Kenjon taught me to keep working,” Marshall says. “He was always in my ear telling me to never be satisfied and never get comfortable. He also taught me how to have fun during a game, have fun playing. You don’t have to always be super serious. You’re serious when you’re in there playing and working. But afterward, you can laugh and relax, have fun and enjoy the game.”

Marshall is a big back at 5-10, 200. He is much more like Blount than James or Barner.

“He runs really hard,” Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says. “He brings a physical presence. He’s a north-south guy. He doesn’t dance a lot, but he gets those tough yards.”

Power was not always Marshall’s forte, though, and he didn’t come from a football family.

“My Pops was real into basketball,” Marshall says. “My mom was a track runner, and she hooped also.”

When he was 6, Marshall watched as his older brother Cameron (who played for Arizona State last season and is a free agent with the Miami Dolphins) played football for the first time. Cameron’s love for the game quickly translated to his brother. The next year, Byron took to the gridiron.

“I was like, ‘I can’t just sit here and watch,’ “ he says.

He relied on speed back then.

“I was real shifty as a kid,” Marshall says.

His sophomore year in high school, though, he began to lift weights and beef up.

Now, “I’m the biggest running back we have. But I have a lot of speed also,” he said. “I’m an overall good back. I can catch, I can run, I can use my power. I have a lot of attributes.”

Marshall rooms with receivers Bralon Addison and Chance Allen. Their favorite video games to play are NBA2K, NCAA Football and Call of Duty. Marshall says he much prefers to stay inside and game than hit the McKenzie River.

Marshall put more time into the gym over the summer.

“We took it a lot more seriously this year,” he says. “The team was so much hungrier. Everyone wanted to get after it.”

It is possible that a year from now, people may wonder how anyone could have doubted that Marshall would be the heir to the Ducks’ running back dynasty. Or, by next season, Marshall’s name could be forgotten.

“Some guys like (Marshall) are motivated by the, ‘They’re the next guy at the pump’ type of mentality,” new Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich says. “They don’t want anyone else around the pump before they can have confidence and wholehearted commitment to the system. But you don’t know.”

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