JERICHO – When Paul Marshall was a freshman in 2013, he saw action for one drive during Week 1 of the high school football season.
He didn’t step back on the field for Mount Mansfield Union High School until opening weekend of … 2015.
Away from the game he loves for two years, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Marshall has overcome a devastating knee injury, a long recovery and rehab process and uncalculated odds to suit up again for the Cougars.
Suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee that required donor transplant surgery and additional cartilage, a rare procedure for a teenager, Marshall hasn’t missed a game through four weeks, slotted as the starting left tackle for an uptempo spread offense and earning a rotation spot on the defensive line.
“I’ve never seen a kid work so hard for a definite-maybe,” MMU coach Marty Richards said. “He worked two years in the weight room to get stronger, went to physical therapy. He never gave up, he never wavered and failure wasn’t an option for him.
“He’s the type of kid who will persevere — you can’t teach that.”
While the Cougars, back in Division II after a four-year stay in D-I, are winless and battling the injury bug in the first month of the season, Marshall’s return has been one of the few bright spots.
“I told our coaches I just wanted him to play one side of the ball, but he impressed and he showed through preseason that he could do it,” Richards said. “I didn’t want to take too many chances because, as a coach, you have their future in mind, too.”
Marshall, though, was determined to play again, despite his doctor’s original recommendation.
“I was really sad about it because I couldn’t imagine life without football,” Marshall said. “Really, in my mind, (my doctor) knew I was always going to get back and I knew I was always going to get back.”
Marshall suffered the knee injury during football camp at Norwich University, just a few weeks before reporting to MMU preseason practice.
“I took a wrong step when I was planting and I pretty much heard a pop,” Marshall said. “It didn’t hurt that much at the time, but the more I played on it, the more it hurt.”
Initially thought to be just a sprain, Marshall went to preseason and earned a spot on the varsity squad, played one series and took part in a JV game before the MRI results came in. Marshall had a complete tear of his meniscus, a piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion between the femur and tibia.
Marshall went on a donor list for the meniscus transplant and had surgery the day before Thanksgiving in 2013. While there is enough data on older people who had similar knee procedures, Marshall’s case was unique, according to his doctor.
“What he had done, there is very little information with how long the procedure is going to last,” said Dr. James Slauterbeck. “I couldn’t tell him what will happen in a body of a 14- or 15-year old.
“That’s what prompted this critical plan to reconstruct or restore his knee as normal we could make it.”
Slauterbeck also cautioned Marshall about returning to football.
“My goal when we started all this was to get him walking without pain,” Slauterbeck said.
Through PT, a home weight set his parents purchased and an overhaul to his dietary habits, Marshall slowly strengthened his knee and remade his overall physique. Marshall has shed 50 pounds since freshman year.
“He has done very well and he is painless and he has pushed every limit I have put on him,” Slauterbeck said. “We had a very long heart-to-heart talk. My recommendation is to be careful with athletic activities. In his eyes, it’s extremely important to him to return to the sport he loves.
“Anything he’s done is a tribute to him. His body, his life — whatever he has done I would attribute to him.”
Marshall’s parents share the same concerns but remain supportive.
“Plenty of kids are told you can’t play your sport again and they don’t have the opportunity to go back to it,” said Marilyn Marshall, Paul’s mother. “He was lucky he was at least given a second chance.”
Paul’s father, Jeff Marshall: “There’s a risk, but when somebody is passionate about something like Paul is, you don’t want to take that away from him.”
When Paul Marshall slapped on his pads and helmet for the Week 1 home game against Burr and Burton last month, an adrenaline rush he hadn’t felt in two years flowed through his body.
“It was really relieving to get back out there and put on the gear again,” Marshall said. “That’s one thing I always remembered, that feeling of playing football on a Saturday or something.
“It definitely came back a bit and it feel really good.”