John Marshall was attending the Army-Navy news conference in Philadelphia when it was announced that he was the only unanimous All-American Athletic Conference selection.
Navy’s senior outside linebacker was honored to be held in such high regard by the conference coaches. However, Marshall was disappointed that only one teammate received any recognition.
Marshall was awarded first-place votes from all 10 American head coaches in earning all-conference for the first time in his career. He was one of four linebackers named All-AAC.
Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace was not a unanimous pick, but was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Tulane tailback Tyjae Spears was voted Offensive Player of the Year, Temple quarterback E.J. Warner was tabbed the Rookie of the Year, while Cincinnati punter Mason Fletcher was selected as Special Teams Player of the Year.
Willie Fritz was chosen Coach of the Year after leading Tulane (10-2, 7-1) to the regular season conference championship. Multiple media outlets reported that Fritz would be hired as Georgia Tech head coach, but he elected to stay at Tulane, which hosts Central Florida (9-3, 6-2) in the AAC championship game.
Marshall had a monstrous senior season for the Midshipmen, leading the team in total tackles (88). Navy’s defensive captain ranks fourth nationally in tackles for loss (18 ½) and fifth in sacks (10 ½).
Marshall broke the Navy single-season record for sacks and ranks fourth in program history for tackles for loss. He needs 1 ½ tackles for loss to move into second place behind College Football Hall of Famer Chet Moeller (25 in 1977).
Marshall is coming off an overpowering performance against Central Florida in which he set the Navy single-game record with four sacks. He recorded 10 tackles and forced a fumble that teammate Colin Ramos recovered, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Marshall was named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week as a result.
That was one of many games in which Marshall stood out. He notched a career-high 15 tackles against Memphis, highest total by a Navy player since 2013. He totaled 11 tackles (2 ½ for loss), five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and a sack versus Temple.
Those five pass breakups tied for the third-highest total among Football Bowl Subdivision players this season. Marshall also leads the Mids with seven pass breakups and six quarterback hurries and is one of five players with two forced fumbles this season.
Marshall plays the hybrid outside linebacker known at Navy as “striker” and has been given more freedom to blitz off the edge, both in passing and running situations, this season. Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry has moved Marshall around the formation in order to disguise where he is coming from.
Marshall is one of only 15 players in American Athletic Conference history to be unanimous postseason selections since the conference’s formation in 2013. He is the only Navy player ever accorded that honor.
“I’m super-blessed to be put in that position. It’s a tremendous honor and means a lot,” Marshall said. “I have to thank Coach Newberry, because a lot of my success can be attributed to him and the calls he’s made that have allowed me to come off the edge more.”
Marshall was also grateful for the mentoring of assistant Joe Coniglio, who is in his first season coaching the outside linebackers. The Gonzaga College Prep product has improved his pass rushing technique under Coniglio’s tutelage.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been pushed this hard before by a coach and I appreciate Coach Coniglio for doing that,” Marshall said.
Defensive end Jacob Busic was the only other Navy player to earn All-AAC recognition, being named honorable mention. Busic is second on the squad in sacks (6) and third in tackles for loss (7 ½). The junior out of Westminster has made 33 total tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
“I also owe a lot to my teammates, especially Jacob Busic on my side of the field who is taking on blocks to free me up to make plays,” Marshall said.
Navy ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense, allowing only 85.6 yards per game. Marshall felt nose guard Donald “Biscuit” Berniard Jr., tackle Clay Cromwell and inside linebacker Colin Ramos (second on the team with 71 tackles) deserved accolades for their prominent roles in that area.
“We have a lot of guys on defense who are just as deserving as me. That is especially true of the defensive line, which has been stopping the run all season. I think those guys deserve a little more recognition,” Marshall said.
Pace is the second consecutive Cincinnati player named AAC Defensive Player of the Year, following in the footsteps of cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, now playing with the New York Jets. The inside linebacker, who is a finalist for the Butkus Award and Bednarik Award, leads the American with 120 tackles and 19 ½ tackles for loss and ranks second with nine sacks.
Spears is the first Tulane player and first non-quarterback to be named AAC Offensive Player of the Year. He rushed for 1,177 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns.