This time of year all the headlines are about the new players and National Signing Day, but the reason the Ducks are among the contenders for the first FBS football playoff is because of the players who are coming back.
Byron Marshall rushed for over a thousand yards as a sophomore, ably stepping into the role of lead running back after Kenjon Barner graduated to the NFL. He overcame pessimism and a late-season injury to achieve the milestone, and along the way, he showed himself to be be a tough, consistent, determined runner who took good care of the football and used his blocks effectively.
Marshall plan: Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner get the ooos and aaahhs, but Byron Marshall was the steady, capable bread-and-butter of the Oregon attack in 2013, shown here driving for yards against Utah (Scott Olmos, USA Today Sports Images).
In one stretch at mid-season, Marshall paced the Ducks with five straight 100-yard games, including 19 for 106 and two touchdowns against Washington, 21 for a season-high 192 and 3 scores against Washington State, and 19 for 133 and 3 more tds against UCLA.
Marshall busted loose for a career-long 49-yard touchdown run in the opener against Nichols State, on his way to 124 yards on just 8 carries.
He didn't really become the starter until De'Anthony Thomas went down with an injury on the opening kickoff against California, but he responded in that game with 19 carries for 130 yards and two tds off the bench.
Built for durability at 5-10, 201, Marshall is quick enough with 10.67 speed in the 100 meters, electronic 4.77 in the 40. He's also strong, powering up 455 in the squat during winter testing in 2012.
Marshall was a 4-star player coming out of high school, rated the best running back prospect in the West while prepping at Valley Christian High in San Jose.
Right before the Alamo Bowl, All-conference center Hroniss Grasu told Beth Mannion of the Oregon Daily Emerald, “Even though he is a second year sophomore he is a leader on this team,” Grasu said. “He is a guy we all look up to and he brings some really great energy on the field and I am really excited to have him back."
Like many young running backs, Marshall struggled early with dancing in the hole, but he's learned to take what's there and drive forward. As a freshman in 2012, he lost just four yards on his final 63 carries. That's an important stat. Negative plays are drive-killers, particularly for spread teams.