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The ‘Paper Wolverine’ behind the Spartan athletics

If you work out at the Veale Center or frequent the issue room, you’ve probably met Hugh Marshall, the kind-hearted equipment manager who ensures that every athlete has the right equipment for each game.  Marshall loves to share stories about his dog, his experiences at Case, and more. But one of Marshall’s favorite stories is his real life “Rudy” tale about when he got to dress for the last high school football game of his senior season without ever actually playing in a football game before.

Marshall has been in the sports management business for a very long time. He started down the path back when he attended West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio. He did this instead of actually playing because, although he was tall, he was just too skinny. In his senior year, Marshall, who is 5’10’’, weighed in at just 113 pounds.

Instead of being the typical sports team manager, though, Marshall was an active member of the team. He didn’t just sit on the side and tally statistics during practice. Instead, he stood behind the coaches and took in all that there was to absorb. The coaches could ask him to run any play for any team, and he would be able to jump in seamlessly.

One weekend near the end of the season, he was on the bus heading home with the football team from a bad loss. There was only one game left in the season, and it was reserved for West Geauga’s senior night. The school they were facing, Twinsburg High School, had not won a game in almost four years, so it was assumed that West Geauga was going to run them off of the field in no time. Despite the evident tension in the air from the loss, Marshall got up and walked over to the first seat on the bus, where the coaches were sitting.

“Hey Coach, can I dress for the game next week?” Marshall asked.

The coach paused for a minute, turned to look at Marshall and said, “Sure.” Marshall was shocked, but excited.

“The coaches put me on the eligibility list in the beginning of the season,” said Marshall, “which is why I was able to play in the game. I don’t know why they decided to do that but, hey, I wasn’t complaining.”

The following week, Marshall dressed for all of the practices. For the first drill of his first practice, Hugh got the ball and was immediately tackled by the biggest player on the team. Everyone worried as they looked at Marshall lying flat on the ground, but Marshall instantly got up and brushed himself off. He knew that if he could take a hit from that linebacker, then he could take a hit from anyone.

Before anybody knew it, the end of the week had arrived. It was finally game day. Marshall’s mother and younger brother showed up to witness Marshall getting honored alongside the rest of the seniors. His father, unfortunately, was unable to attend because he was out of town, but he probably would not have approved of his 113-pound son playing in a varsity high school football game.

From the moment the players stepped onto the field, it was raining heavily. Marshall’s mother, who never really understood why he dressed for the game, went to wait in the car because she was cold and because she didn’t understand football very well. Early in the game, Twinsburg had been penalized 35 yards without running a single play, including 5 yards for an illegal procedure followed by 15 yards for an unsportsmanlike conduct call against the head coach, which resulted in him getting ejected from the game. Nothing seemed to get better for Twinsburg as the game progressed.

After West Geauga scored its first touchdown, Marshall’s brother started a “We want Huey!” chant. Within seconds, the entire student section joined in. The chant continued for the remainder of the game.

With about three and a half minutes remaining in the game, West Geauga was winning 24-0. Twinsburg had the ball but quickly threw an interception, allowing West Geauga to get within 10 yards of a touchdown. On the next play, West Geauga threw a pass into the end zone, but it was incomplete. Playing true to form, Twinsburg picked up yet another penalty on that play with a pass interference call, and West Geauga got the ball at the one-yard line.

At that moment, the head coach decided to put Marshall in the game as quarterback. The crowd went wild as Marshall ran onto the field. In the huddle, he told his teammates how they were going to run a QB sneak, where the quarterback fakes a throw and sneaks into the end zone. After Marshall’s explanation, the team broke the huddle and approached the line of scrimmage.

Just as the center was about to snap the ball, one of the Twinsburg defensive linemen yelled hostile, inappropriate comments to the referee. Immediately, the referee threw up a penalty flag and ejected the lineman from the game. The Twinsburg coach, who shouldn’t have been near the field because he was ejected earlier in the game, stormed onto the field and started an argument with the referee. The coach was so angry that he pulled his entire team off of the field before Marshall could run his play.

Worried that Twinsburg might not come back, Marshall, who was known as a shy kid, went up to the referee uncharacteristically and asked, “If they don’t come back, can we line up and do this anyway?”

The referee said, “Get your guys in a huddle and take a knee. We’ll get them back.” So, Marshall got his team in a huddle and took a knee. When he took a knee, his hand touched the mud and became slippery. That, unfortunately, would cost him his one golden opportunity of a lifetime.

Somehow, someone convinced Twinsburg to return to the field. Excited that he could run his play, Marshall lined up behind the center at the line of scrimmage. “There was this huge hole in the defensive line,” he recalls. “I knew exactly where I was going to run the ball. If I caught that ball, there was no way I wouldn’t score!”

“Oh my. I can’t believe this! It can’t be this easy…” Marshall remembers thinking to himself.  After a few more breaths, he gave the signal and the center snapped the ball. Unfortunately, Marshall’s hands were so slippery from taking that knee moments earlier that he couldn’t catch the snap. He fumbled the ball and Twinsburg recovered it. However he’s definitely convinced he would have been in the end zone had he executed the snap properly.

“I was taking snaps all week in practice from JV centers,” said Marshall. “But in the game, a varsity center snapped it to me. The ball went so much faster than I expected.”

Despite missing the snap, it was one of those memories that Marshall will cherish forever. To this day, Marshall can only imagine how people would have reacted had he caught the ball and scored the touchdown.

“Everyone called me ‘The Paper Wolverine’ because the game was just like the one in [the movie] ‘Paper Lion,’” he said.

And so, every time Marshall watches a football game or distributes jerseys in the locker room, a little part of him travels back to Oct. 29, 1970, when he lined up on senior night to beat Twinsburg. And that’s how Hugh Marshall got to play in a high school football game without ever playing in a football game before.

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