When Eugene Marshall decided four years ago to attend Cardinal Gibbons High, it certainly wasn't because of the reputation of the school's football program. The Crusaders just had completed an 0-9 season in 1987 and had not had a winning season since 1982.
But the basketball program at Cardinal Gibbons was top-notch. Twenty-win seasons were common under coach Ray Mullis. And college scholarships were certainly possible if you played basketball at Gibbons.
That's what Marshall decided he wanted. He would attend Gibbons, play basketball and earn a college scholarship.
The plan was going well until last fall. All of a sudden, Marshall emerged as an outstanding football player.
After two mediocre years on the junior varsity, he joined the varsity and rushed for 1,088 yards (5.9 per carry) and five touchdowns on 183 carries. And the Crusaders bounced back from a 0-9 season in 1989 to flirt briefly with first place in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference before finishing 4-6.
"He's an outstanding basketball player who didn't know what he could do in football," said Gibbons football coach Frank Trcka. "It took time for him to realize how good he is. And he is only getting better."
On the basketball court, Marshall is a quick, slashing forward who often outfights bigger players inside. But, at 6 feet 1, 185 pounds, Marshall said he realizes he does not have the size to play forward in college.
However, his size is fine for football.
"After last fall, I sat down and said I would stick with football. It will be better for me college-wise," said Marshall.
Last season, Marshall was overshadowed by running backs Larry Washington (Randallstown) and Raphael Wall (Wilde Lake), who led their teams to state titles. Even in the MSA A Conference, Marshall was considered the third-best back, behind Obie Barnes Jr. (Forest Park) and Ed Trusty (Gilman).
In fact, Street & Smith's magazine lists Gibbons' Damon Fleary as one of the country's top backs for this season, but doesn't mention Marshall. Trcka says someone made a mistake.
"They probably heard we had a good running back last year and went down the roster to see who the juniors were. They saw Damon's name before they saw Eugene's," said Trcka.
Despite Street & Smith's mix-up, high school coaches are calling Marshall the area's best running back. There are some others returning who also gained more than 1,000 yards last season, but Marshall did it in the area's best league.
And the recruiters know about Marshall. Marshall says Virginia, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Syracuse have indicated they will recruit him.
Eugene Marshall the running back differs from Eugene Marshall the basketball player. With his 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard --, Marshall usually accelerates past opponents rather than battle them head-on.
Trcka says Marshall still is learning about running and could top last year's numbers. He'll run behind a line that is smaller but quicker than last season's and returns two starters -- Keith Gucwa and Chris Able.
"He's starting to get the idea he can change directions without stopping," said Trcka. "He'll be a big-time college player. I think this year will go a long way to prove what he can do. His potential is great, but he's got to prove it on the field. Last year, it was a combination of things. I thought the line did an excellent job, but he also has a lot of talent. You can't discount that."