Back when Cassius Marsh used to get overcome by his competitive fervor, his on-field aggressiveness going from productive to detrimental, his UCLA coach Jim Mora offered an explanation.
“Cassius is kind of a wild horse rider at times,” Mora said, before adding “… and that’s OK.”
It is certainly OK these days, because Cassius Marsh is now on a team filled with wild horse riders — players who attack the game for all they’re worth.
In his first action with the Seahawks, the preseason opener at Denver on Thursday, Marsh was a defensive star with a sack and a tackle for loss.
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Marsh made things happen at UCLA, too, but sometimes the passionate intensity led to on-field scrapes, and every story that carried his name applied the modifier “fiery.”
It’s fairly obvious by now that Seahawks GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll believe that it’s way better to have to slightly rein in a fractious colt than to have to repeatedly use the cattle prod on a laggard.
The Seahawks took Marsh with a fourth-round pick in the draft this spring. As scouts often do, they tried to assess his skills and demeanor and style, and superimpose those onto a current player as a rough means of projecting his ceiling.
When they looked at the hyper-competitive, high-revving Marsh, they saw a young Jared Allen coming out of college. To be likened to a player who twice led the NFL in sacks is not a bad thing.
But when it’s mentioned to the rookie Marsh, he explains that he’s more interested in making a name for himself.
“I just want to be the best man I can be,” he said. “This is what I’ve chosen for my profession. If you take pride in yourself, you will strive to be the best you can, and if you do that, greatness will come.”
Early in training camp, the 6-4, 254-pound Marsh has shown a nonstop motor, and given evidence that he’s not just an edge rusher from defensive end, but also effective at rushing from an interior position in the nickel package.
Since so many sacks are the result of second effort, of having the drive to “finish,” Marsh has been very disruptive with an approach that can only be described as unrelenting.
“I love to play, and if you’re going to do something, why would you not do it to the fullest?” he asked.
After drafting Marsh, Carroll said: “He’s as aggressive and active as anybody that was in the draft. He’s going to come with a real attitude.”
The attitude thus far has been one of diligence, not reckless aggression.
“I play with a lot of fire, and I play with a lot of passion,” he said. “And sometimes that can spill over. I made some mistakes as a young guy. It’s something that I’m aware of. I’ve been able to grow from my mistakes and learn.”
Marsh already feels at home in Seattle because so many of his new teammates play with the same drive.
“Relentlessness is something they emphasize here, and finishing; it’s something I’ve always been able to do. If you want to make plays, you’ve got to hustle.”
Schneider and Carroll, then, know they don’t have to instill the attitude if they hire people already in possession of it.
“The coaches do a great job of deciding who they want to bring in here,” he said. “They don’t bring in anybody who doesn’t love the game, who doesn’t want to be great, who isn’t passionate about it.”
It’s part of his genetic coding, as his dad, Curtis Marsh, was a receiver with Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, and his older brother, Curtis Marsh Jr., is a cornerback with the Eagles.
It’s his conditioning and fitness that allows him to pursue sideline to sideline. He’s further branched out his workout regimen to include some of the hand-fighting skills learned via mixed martial arts training.
But for a man who plays like he’s trying to tame horses, Marsh is very soft-spoken and claims to be a homebody who enjoys spending time with his pet pit bull, Boss.
“College was different; I wasn’t surrounded by guys who were like me, so I’m a lot more comfortable here,” he said. “I think I’ve calmed down a lot.”
Calm? Except for those frantic seconds between the snap and the whistle, when he still looks like a wild horse rider.
And that’s OK.