Living forever in the immense shadow of his grandfather, Tulane Green Wave linebacker Nico Marley is one of the best linebackers in the nation. He is also a player that very few people outside of the AAC even know about. That needs to change.
There is a strong belief that a player can get handed praise due to his family name. At first glance, one might be tempted to put Marley in that category. Despite having a musical icon as a grandfather and a father that played for the University of Miami, Nico has earned every single accolade thrown his way.
The story starts at Cypress Bay High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Marley was a standout player on defense for the south Florida high school power. Even with quality players all over the field, Marley always found a way to stand out. Even after being named to the Class 8A All-State team, he could not get a sniff from the majority of the FBS.
He heard every excuse why he wasn't being recruited at a higher level. He was too small to play at the college level, physicality at the college level would render him ineffective, he was a "nice" high school player that could never make the jump to the FBS level, and and countless other excuses.
At 5-8 and 185 pounds, no one could blame the coaches that passed over Marley. Recruiting is all about the size, the speed, the physical ability that jumps out on tape and in person. Coaches are taught to go after the physical freaks of nature that tower over their competition. Marley was an excellent player but did not hold the size that programs wanted, so he was immediately crossed off the list.
That is, until then Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson gave Marley the opportunity. The first time Johnson saw Marley play, it felt like a blast to the past. Marley immediately stood out as a player that knew how to make plays. Johnson pulled the trigger and offered the undersized but talented player a scholarship.
Even after offering a scholarship, Johnson never really considered the possibility of Marley making more than a small impact as a special teams ace due to his size.
Tulane easily won the signature of Marley, beating out FCS program Duquesne for the two-star recruit's services. There was still uncertainty whether Marley would end up as a linebacker or a defensive back in the Green Wave system.
All doubts immediately disappeared once the true freshman stepped on the field.
Generously listed as 5-10, Marley immediately made his presence known on the practice field with punishing hits and an full understanding of his role within the defense. After watching him wreck havoc day after day, Johnson and company had now choice but to move Marley into a starting role at weak-side linebacker.
As an undersized freshman, Marley made Johnson look like a genius with 12 starts, 67 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries. The Green Wave also earned an invitation to the New Orleans Bowl, the program's first bowl trip since the 2002 season.
For his freshman effort, Marley earned Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year recognition and a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman Team.
Heading into the 2014 season, Marley was even better with 82 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two more fumble recoveries, and ranked 19th nationally in tackles per game (6.8). Marley showed up best versus ACC programs Duke and Georgia Tech, combining for 23 tackles in those two games.
Though he was a terror on the field, the Green Wave struggled in its move to the AAC. The Green Wave ended the season at 3-9. Marley was rewarded for his excellent play with a spot on the All-AAC Honorable Mention team from the conference and All-AAC Third Team honors from Phil Steele Publications.
With over 150 tackles already on his resume, the junior again rose to the occasion with 82 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception. He again set a personal record versus Duke, this time notching 15 tackles versus the Blue Devils.
The Green Wave again struggled to a 3-9 record, including a 1-7 record versus AAC competition. Though he would again be denied a trip to a bowl in 2015, Marley was again named to the All-AAC team. Instead of an honorable mention selection, Marley was named to the First Team as a junior.
Heading into his senior season, Marley has 36 career starts out of 37 possible games, 231 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and three interceptions. He has the chance to end his career with 300 tackles and 50 tackles for loss, numbers that are unheard of at Tulane.
For his final act, Marley is making the transition to a 4-2-5 defense based in "Nickel" personnel under new head coach Willie Fritz. While the former Georgia Southern coach will have plenty to worry about during his first season in New Orleans, one thing he will never have to worry about is senior linebacker Nico Marley.