MIAMI - Torrance Marshall grew up here, dreaming of playing football at Florida State. His college career, which included a couple of stops and more than a few bumps along the way, comes to an interesting conclusion in tonight's Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium.
Marshall will be starting at middle linebacker for top-ranked Oklahoma, hoping to play a major role in beating his once-beloved Seminoles.
A fan of former Florida State All-American Derrick Brooks, Marshall's chances of following in his footsteps in Tallahassee ended when he failed to qualify academically coming out of high school and wound up attending Kemper Military Academy in Boonville, Mo.
"They [Florida State] don't recruit junior college players," Marshall recalled recently in Norman. "That's what they told my coach."
Florida State wasn't the only big-time program to pass on Marshall. After he was forced to get his junior college degree at Miami-Dade, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and the University of Miami also passed on him. He wound up at Oklahoma, which had just fired John Blake and hired Bob Stoops.
"I wasn't sure how it was going to work out," Marshall said, "but everything worked out for the best."
As a junior last season, the 6-foot-2, 247-pound Marshall finished third on the team in tackles with 97, tying former Butkus Award winner Brian Bosworth's school record with 17 tackles for losses, including seven sacks. Marshall had 99 tackles this season, including 16 for losses, and was named first-team All-Big 12.
Marshall made what many consider the biggest play of Oklahoma's season, a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Sooners the lead against Texas A&M; after falling behind by 10 points in the second half.
"Torrance has come up big, not only in our big games, but has played at a great level throughout the year and made a lot of great plays," Stoops said yesterday. "I'm sure he will be a factor in this game."
Oklahoma's trip here has allowed Marshall his first trip home in two years. He spent Christmas with Gloria and Les Thompson, the couple who took Marshall into their home when he was 15 and later became his legal guardians. Marshall was friends with their son on the Sunset High football team, but his own home life was troubled after his parents divorced.
Marshall has since repaired his relationship with his biological father, but has not spoken to his mother in years. Marshall, who is married with two young children, plans to have the reunion continue tonight in the stands at Pro Player Stadium. He has been trying to secure tickets for his extended family from teammates.
"All of us are ecstatic," Gloria Thompson told the Daily Oklahoman recently. "To be back here, and that he's playing before his friends and family, has to be special."
No rooting allowed
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was asked yesterday if he planned to pull for the Gators since a win by the Hurricanes might mean a shared national championship.
"I don't pull for either one of them because I have to play them," Bowden said. "I don't want to infuriate either one of them."
Asked later if he thought Stoops and assistant Steve Spurrier Jr. would seek the advice of Florida coach Steve Spurrier, Bowden joked, "Not if they want to win."
"That was for Steve," he said. "I imagine they have had good talks with Steve. I talk to my son. You see how much I helped him yesterday [when Tommy Bowden's Clemson team lost to Virginia Tech]."
The firing of John Cooper at Ohio State yesterday was a topic of discussion for both coaches here.
"I hate that; I had not even heard a hint of that," Bowden said. "That's how much football has changed the last 10 years. We fire them from bowls now."
It also raised speculation the Buckeyes would go after Stoops, who grew up in Youngstown and played in the Big Ten at Iowa.
Stoops, who received a huge raise and a new contract earlier this season, tried to quash any rumors about his leaving Norman.
"We're getting ready to play the national championship game at Oklahoma and we're going to worry about Ohio State?" said Stoops. "I'm not going to even comment on that."
Bowden sizes up QBs
Bowden aptly described the difference between the game's two quarterbacks, Florida State's Chris Weinke and Oklahoma's Josh Heupel.
"One is a lefty [Heupel] and the other is a right-hander," said Bowden. "One of them is a granddaddy [the 28-year-old Weinke] and the other is a grandson. I said this before ... If either quarterback was out, the team would lose."