Football Preview: Marshall rallying behind new coach, new expectations

Marshall’s head coach Nicholas Wilson (facing camera) has set lofty goals for his first season. (Photo by Devin Chen)

By Jeremy Balan

There’s a line that some around the City say with a snicker about the Thurgood Marshall High School athletic programs.

There’s more untapped talent walking around the hallways at Marshall than on the field — at any school in San Francisco.

Whether that’s true is almost impossible to determine, but it speaks to the problem at the school in the southeast corner of the City, or at the very least the perceived problem.

Eligibility issues, stunningly poor management, low enrollment and a bevy of other issues have plagued many of Marshall’s athletic programs in the past and the football program has been one of the casualties.

The Phoenix have a 5-48 record in Academic Athletic Association play since 2002 and have won just one non-league game. That record includes a stretch of 24 straight losses from 2004-2010 (Marshall also failed to field a football team in 2007 and 2008). The last two years, in which Marshall has won three games combined, have been the most successful back-to-back seasons in the school’s history.

But that’s not how new head coach Nicholas Wilson defines success.

“There were a lot of coaches here in the past that didn’t understand what it took to run a winning football program, and those guys are gone,” Wilson said. “I don’t want them here.”

Senior wide receiver Drakari Donaldson, who played as a sophomore but sat out his junior season, will be a key offensive threat for Marshall this season. (Photo by Devin Chen)

Wilson is a 23-year-old former quarterback, who won a Central Coast Section title at Half Moon Bay in 2005 and went on to play college football at Lewis and Clark in Portland, Ore. He then joined the coaching staff at the college when a hip injury ended his playing career during his freshman season.

As Lewis and Clark’s quarterbacks coach, Wilson recruited the Bay Area and even courted Mission standout lineman Darius Grays, who is now playing at the college.

Now Wilson is focusing his attention on the AAA, and what he lacks in high school coaching experience, he makes up with brazen confidence.

“We’re going to win league this year,” Wilson said. “It may sound funny now, but this is the best group of guys in the league and we’re going to win a league championship. I want everyone in this league to know that we’re the team that should have the target on our back.”

Wilson and his father Ken, who took over as interim athletic director after his son’s hiring, are the architects of a grand undertaking at Marshall.

The simple things afforded to a normal high school football program haven’t come easy to the Wilsons.

They are struggling find enough safe and usable helmets, and have already fashioned their own PVC shoulder pad holders. They still haven’t found keys to all of the doors in the locker room under the gym, rooms that may contain more equipment, jerseys or workout gear.

Many of the cupboards are literally bare — or locked. But that isn’t the biggest problem hampering Marshall.

“We had four teams that had to forfeit games due to eligibility issues [last season],” Ken said. “With all due respect, that’s not a very high bar for a new athletic director. I’m determined that’s not going to happen.”

As with fellow small-school football program Burton, which canceled its varsity season earlier in the summer, student turnout is an ongoing problem for the Phoenix.

Only four players showed up to their first summer workout, but the numbers have been growing ever since. The Wilsons even have 42 interested players on a Facebook page for the team.

The Phoenix have had 25 players participate in early summer practice (although approximately 19 appear to be varsity-ready), and that may seem small, until you learn that they didn’t even have summer practice last season.

“We really didn’t have anybody last year and had to cancel our summer practice until school started,” said junior Quintrell Anderson, a running back who was named second-team All-AAA last season. “I guess we’re tired of losing. People get tired of getting beat up on. After a while, they fight back.”

Junior running back Quintrell Anderson may be the most important returning player for Marshall this season and should get the majority of the team’s carries. (Photo by Devin Chen)

That attitude appears to be inspired by their new head coach, who is openly disinterested in making friends among AAA coaches that he feels have tried to take players away from Marshall via the new 30-day transfer rule.

“I’m not going to name names, but I know specifics of other coaches that have been trying to poach our kids, telling kids we’re not even going to have a football team this year,” Nicholas said. “I’ve had five guys who were trying to transfer and I’ve tried to convince them to stay. Those schools need to know that we’re coming for them. We’re not going to be the school, anymore, that gets run over and everyone takes kids from. We’re going to be the school that beats you down.”

The younger Wilson knows he will take criticism for his comments and because of his age, but the confidence with which he speaks could be just what Marshall needs. A fresh face, a new attitude and a stark contrast from the previous coaching staff. You could even call it swagger.

That swagger will be tested immediately, with Washington, Lowell, Mission and Lincoln kicking off Marshall’s AAA schedule. All four were playoff teams last season.

“There’s going to be a lot of people who think I’m this 23-year-old kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Nicholas said. “I’ve coached college football. I know what goes into it. I’ve coached a team that has broken a bunch of records. I’m not here to win five games and make playoffs. I’m here to win championships and it’s going to start this year, and I hope that everyone is ready for us, because I don’t want to be winning 70-0 every week. I hope that there’s a couple of teams in this league that can get ready enough to give us a game.”

Nicholas has every intention of bucking Marshall’s dismal football tradition. Whether he can do that, however, will rest in the hands of the players on the field, and he does have some players.

It doesn’t take long to notice Marshall’s talent, even on the practice field. Some players look like full-grown men, including Anderson, who has the body of a Division I fullback.

There have also been positive steps on the field, albeit baby steps.

It started with a seven-on-seven, passing-league matchup with Half Moon Bay, a CCS playoff team last season.

With no substitutes and an assistant coach playing wide receiver and linebacker (“He wasn’t very good either,” Ken said.), the Phoenix made a second-half comeback to beat the Cougars.

“Halfway through, we were getting killed,” Nicholas said. “We came back and that was the first step. Leading up to that, I didn’t know if I could do this, and after that, I realized we have a special group.”

With that group, and a newly-installed spread offense modeled after Urban Meyer’s scheme employed at Utah and Florida, Nicholas feels comfortable making claims that border on prep sports heresy.

“In two years, I want to schedule Serra and [St. Ignatius] and Riordan, and I don’t think they should be able to beat us,” Nicholas said. “I’ve watched them all play, but there’s no school on the entire Peninsula that has better athletes than we do.”

If Marshall were to win a AAA football championship on Thanksgiving, it would not only be a first for the football program. It would also be the school’s first AAA title in any boys sport (Marshall’s girls basketball program has the school’s only AAA title, which came in 2005).

For the players, their motivation is a desire for respect. They don’t want to be the doormat of the AAA any longer.

“People talk all the time, every year. Sometimes the talk gets to us, but this year I’m not letting it happen,” said senior wide receiver Drakari Donaldson. “I want to leave a legacy. I want to start something at Thurgood.”

2012 Schedule – AAA games in bold

Week 0: Fri. 8/31 – @ San Rafael, 7 p.m.
Week 1: Fri. 9/7 – @ Oakland Tech, 7 p.m.
Week 2: Sat. 9/15 – @ Mission San Jose (Fremont) @ Tak Fudenna Stadium (Fremont), 7 p.m.
Week 3: Fri. 9/21 – @ Gonzales, 7 p.m.
Week 4: Fri. 9/28 – @ Washington, 3 p.m.
Week 5: Fri. 10/5 – @ Lowell, 3 p.m.
Week 6: Sat. 10/13 – vs. Mission @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
Week 7: Fri. 10/19 – vs. Lincoln @ SOTA, 3 p.m.
Week 8: Thu. 10/25 – vs. Galileo @ SOTA, 2 p.m.
Week 9: Sat. 11/3 – @ Balboa, 2 p.m.

Week 10: (Bye)

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53 Comments

  1. pf says:

    good article on marshall, might be a tough road but hope they pull through.

    • wcal says:

      I guess he could have come out with a whiny loser type statement with a bunch of excuses about numbers or player problems. I like this better. BUT! Walk the walk time is just weeks away.

  2. washington says:

    you must be kidding me

  3. reader says:

    I don’t think Wilson’s predictions will come anywhere close to happening, but at least he gave a reason to pay attention to Marshall for a week or 2.

  4. Chris says:

    I like his enthusiam…but no he will not beat SHC SI Riordan…or Washington or even Lowell.

  5. Observer says:

    WOW, 4 night games? And a complete 10 game schedule? nice job by the AD

    • JJ says:

      Whenever an AAA football team schedules a WCAL team, the score ends up 35-6 or 48-7. I remember SI and SHC used to play Lowell in football a few years ago and the scores were pretty lopsided. I agree that Marshall has great athletes, but without a larger number of players, the guys who play 2-ways (both offense and defense) will run out of gas by the 4th quarter.

  6. WCAL Alum says:

    Love his moxy. Why not shoot for the stars? Youthful enthusiasm. Depth/grades will be his issue.

    As for playing WCAL teams in near future(?). I would honestly suggest he scheduleing his varsity team v. their JV teams first. He does understand these team will have 3 times as many players as he will have.

    I wish him a long learning curb and long-term success.
    .

  7. pf says:

    never underestimate your enemies,dont know whats in store, good things or bad, just have to stay tuned.

  8. pf says:

    Im sharing computer with a colleague.

  9. number1 says:

    I talk a lot too and have huge confidence so I know where this coach is coming from. I also know that if I don’t own up to what I say, I get looked at funny. it also adds more pressure. haha but he claims he knows what hes doing so we’ll just wait and find out. They play my team first game of the triple AAA season. can’t wait to smack them. lessgoo

  10. airball says:

    Glad Marshall found a football coach to keep the program alive. He sounds like a guy with much passion and energy, something that the players will benefit from….and I think even more important than hiring a football coach, was the hiring of a new athletic director. Any word on his credentials?

    • jbalan says:

      It didn’t make the article (it was long enough), but Ken Wilson is a lawyer and has coached freshman basketball at Half Moon Bay for several years. He is also going to be an assistant coach on the Marshall football team.

    • KeepItReal! says:

      Excuse me but the old coaches and athletic director had just as much passion as anyone, before you can win games you need the grades he understood that and made sure the boys kept them up what they need is more discipline and team work something the players need to work there was nothing wrong with the old coaches

  11. Jon Goldsmith says:

    1. Dont bash the former coaches. They worked hard. May not have won ballgames, but worked hard – all coaches do.
    2. The “fullback” in the picture should be playing on the O and D Lines – not carrying the ball.
    3. “I don’t want to be winning 70-0 every week.” Really? That prediction from a passing league game?
    4. Someone, anyone, please take this boy (a man wouldn’t be so cocky-yes, its cockiness, not confidence) aside and teach him some humility and respect. Probably should be his AD and/or father….oh, wait.
    5. Im all for a positive outlook, but come on. Even Harbaugh knows his limits. Talk is cheap, it takes money to buy whiskey.

  12. Lowell House says:

    I think maybe one of the biggest problems is that all these talented kids at Marshall aren’t even in the hallways…. Working on truancy might be the first step

  13. coachp says:

    love this kids attitude and it’s good for the program. he doesn’t need to make friends, he doesn’t need to be humble. this is the spark the team needs and it’s working as demonstrated by the numbers at summer workouts. If they get through their pre season without injury they should be a handful. watch out wash!

  14. Marshall Alumni says:

    Its about time We had a “Football Preview”, but not so sure about the part about the past coaches weren’t successful and hardworking because I was a Phoenix for the past 4 years and just recently graduated C/O 2012 and although our season may have not been successful but I tip my hat to the coaches for their dedication and hard work! Overall good to hear Marshall’s Making a statement. Like I Said i have played for Marshall for the past 4 yrs so I know what they are capable of and the talents they possess, So Don’t Underestimate Marshall! BEST OF LUCK ON THE SEASON BOYS/ CONGRATS AND GOOD LUCK COACH WILSON! #ProudMarshallAlumni# #PhoenixPride#

  15. pf says:

    jbalan you going to have your weekly picks?

  16. pf says:

    Mr.Don is there anything wrong with Marshall using Rosenberg field to play their home games this year?

  17. fan says:

    Great artical, I appreciate the confidence, and may Marshall have a great season. It looks like Lincoln is next, and the ” Champs” after.

  18. GCJ 01 says:

    I like the coach’s attitude, but I would advise against making bold statements. I won’t be shocked if they win more games this year, however, I doubt they will win the championship. I think once the truancy and academic issues are solved, Marshall’s athletic program will make a strong turn around.

  19. Erica Banks says:

    This article is straight up disrespectful and hurtful on so many different levels to the past coaches that created the thurgood marshal football team in the first place. There was no official team from 2004-2007, by the time i was a freshman in 07 they were just getting started. Whoever wrote this article should really gets their facts straight. Also as a Marshall Alumni , a devoted participant in my community and personally getting to know the coaches as I grew up at Marshall High the coaches and past athletic director were the most dedicated. Second, new coach should watch what he says before he can even put his money where his mouth is, he doesn’t even know what he’s getting into, high school football is completely different from college, and he cant have too much experience if he himself got injured as a freshman. the team might not have won a lot of games in the past but their success truly came from their hard work and what they overcame, they gained mentors and people they could look up to, they graduated which at one point might not have seemed possible. so what do we have here a new “contrast” Face, from the other coaches, a different cocky attitude, and a little boy who has his daddy backing him up

  20. KeepItReal! says:

    This guys a little overly confident, his swagger is obviously mistaken for what is really arrogance , he should have some respect and some humility while walking on a field he’s never been on. Yes he has the credentials I’m sure he’s talented so he probably can back up what he says… Hopefully. but he shouldn’t start off his career as a high school coach bashing on the past coaches that’s just disrespectful, and what’s annoying is that NO ONE put up an article when Espy and Blackshear (the past coaches)were there getting kids grades up, raising money to buy them new uniforms and recruiting and motivating them to even come to practice let’s see those pictures. Honestly I think he’s just mad because of how much those kids actually loved there coaches they wanted them to come back now the new guy is talkin a bunch of Mess saying he doesnt want them, of course he does he wants to be the only one running the show, no young inexperienced white boy is gonna want to be told what to do by the older black coaches who have a relationship already with the players that’s why he brought his dad in lol! And pleeeease get the right stats clearly you need a better resource. Wilson says there’s a lot of past coaches here that didn’t know what it takes to make a winning program, there gone now I don’t want them here? Seriously???…. he obviously doesnt know what it took just to get what they had it’s not like they had their dad for a lawyer to help chip in, what this article should have is how he even plans to back what he says what is he going to bring different other than his confidence and lack of high school experience. One thing he better have is some tough skin cus thurgood is no joke!

  21. pf says:

    why dont you guys just come to one of the games to see if this coach is legit.

  22. KeepItReal! says:

    I would like to apologize for my previous comment in which I used a racial slur. I was just upset at the article, and let my emotions take over. Please except my apology.

    • GCJ 01 says:

      Technically, you didn’t use a racial slur. On a side note, the unfortunate part about your “racial” comment is that it’s true in parts of this country. But going back to the article, I do agree with you in that the new coach has probably shot off his mouth a bit too much and hasn’t fully evaluated the entire situation at Marshall. I just hope that the kids at Marshall continue to do well academically so that they can excel athletically.

      • airball says:

        @GCJ01….you hit the nail on the head. The young coach “hasn’t fully evaluated the entire situation at Marshall.” Developing a football program or any sports program at the high school level requires much more than knowledge and experience of the sport you are coaching. At Marshall, like many other inner-city/underperforming (whatever you want to call it) schools, the issues run much deeper than simply getting kids academically eligible. Sometimes simply getting the kid to go to school on time and stay for a full day is challenge enough. And once the kid is in class, what resources are in place to help him pass chemistry or physics? There is so much more that goes into creating a respectable and competitive sports program than just the X’s and O’s. Like I stated in an early post, I am happy that Marshall has a team and a coach with great passion. However I think the young coach is going to quickly rethink the comments he made regarding previous coaching staffs once he experiences first hand the challenges a school like Marshall deals with year in and year out.

        • GCJ 01 says:

          Airball,

          Very well said!!!!! I think you should go inform the Marshall coach of this so that he doesn’t make such statements again!

    • pf says:

      every coach has there own philosophies.

  23. LowellAlum2008 says:

    I love this guys enthusiasm, he’s certainly created hype around Marshall based on all the comments on this article. His passion is so infectious that I can sense it from his quotes in this article; it gives me goosebumps just reading it, making me want to relive the glory days. This passion will inspire the players to focus and play hard for him. While his goals remain lofty and, to be honest, a little far-fetched, he definitely has the right mindset from the get-go. While I’ll always be rooting for Lowell, Marshall has my eye this season, and hope they do well. Best of luck guys!

  24. T&F Coach says:

    He’s setting up his program for MAJOR Blowouts this year . For shooting his mouth off

  25. JJ says:

    I don’t think there is any pressure on Marshall because they lost to Mission and Marshall by scores of 42-0 and 42-6 last year, so the head coach will look like a genius if he beats those teams. I think they have a good shot to beat those 2nd-tier teams like Balboa, Lowell, Galileo, etc. If he loses alot of games by a ton, then people will just say he didn’t have enough tools in the toolshed, like they do almost every year. Some guy on the NFL Carolina Panthers said they were going to win the Super Bowl; I think they just say those things to take pressure off of the team and build confidence.

  26. Chris (2) says:

    JJ, that may be true when coaches say those things as you say, to take pressure off of the team and build confidence. However, maybe, I am old school, how about just working on being the best at practice and winning games and letting the results speak for themselves. Although, confidence is important, the new Marshall coach has not won anything yet so I would rather be quiet and let the other people do the talking for my team. Start winning, people will talk for you.

    • jbalan says:

      Please pick another name to post under to make things clear. There is already a well-established commenter that goes by “Chris.” Our commenting guidlines are in the Commenting Code of Conduct. Thank you.

  27. Doc holliday says:

    The basketball and baseball turned it around i belive the football program can do the same good luck work hard

    • levon says:

      Please do not even put Marshall basketball team in the same sentence as the football and baseball teams. Marshall’s basketball team is one of AAA basketball elite; they play in the toughest division, not the b division nor, do they only one game a season.

      • JJ says:

        Any school can have a great basketball team, all you need is 1 great player and a couple pretty good players, and your team will be very good. This is what Marshall basketball was last year with only 6 players. In football, if you just have 1 great player and a couple pretty good players, your football team can still be bad because a football team is comprised of many players and a team with only a few good players will be exposed very quickly because the other team will just throw or run at the mediocre/weak players. On offense, even if you have a great RB or Qb, if your offensive line is weak, the QB will have no time to throw and running backs will have no holes to run thru. You need alot of good players to have a good football team.

  28. Costa says:

    To me all you guys are people who know nothing and just go around on the computer and look for something bad to say about something. We may not blow u out 70-0. But we will when all of our games and some blow outs there are very good atheletes at thurgood and all of the players have hart. That’s going to drive them to the top. So get off the computer and down another school that needs to slow down thurgood needs incourgement not down talk. Help the cause not put it down.

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