As a redshirt-freshman punt returner in 2014, all Jalin Marshall wanted to do was catch the ball. That led to nervous moments, both for him and Ohio State fans watching from the stands.
“I just wanted to catch the ball,” Marshall said Monday. “I was just thinking about catching the ball and with me not being comfortable catching the ball it made it nervous for me and obviously nervous for all the fans.”
Those nerves did lead to some mistakes, most notably when he muffed a punt against Minnesota leading to a Golden Gopher touchdown in a game the Buckeyes won by just seven points. Despite those struggles, Marshall kept his job as Ohio State’s starting punt returner, and even returned a punt for a key touchdown the following week against Indiana.
He hasn’t looked back since.
Marshall has been the Buckeyes’ primary punt returner this season — apart from the opener which he missed through suspension — and he’s made his touches count. The Middletown, Ohio, native has racked up 22 punt returns for 292 yards so far, helping boost him to No. 2 on the team in all-purpose yardage. His 13.3 yards per return are good for second in the Big Ten, while Marshall’s six returns of 20 or more yards put him in a tie for second in the FBS.
While nerves caused problems for him last season, Marshall said a lack of those nervous moments have paid dividends this year.
“I feel like with me being more comfortable and everybody being more comfortable we can all relax,” he said.
Marshall noted that his new comfort level doesn’t just help with catching the ball, though, as he’s now able to be more aware of what’s happening around him right up until the moment the ball arrives.
“Now that I’ve gotten a little more comfortable than I was last year I just really make sure the ball is where I can catch it and far enough away form the punt team where I don’t get hit,” Marshall said. “I just really look where I can go until the ball gets to me and then look up and catch it.”
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer noted Marshall’s improvements both as a returner and an all around player, and raved about how far the sophomore has come since having to take a redshirt season in 2013.
“I can’t wait to see him every day, that’s how much he’s matured,” Meyer said of Marshall. “And it shows on the field. He’s doing a lot of unselfish things that most people don’t see. He’s blocking, he’s our best (perimeter) blocker. He’s obviously a very aggressive punt returner that’s worked very hard on that. He’s one of the best punt returners in America right now.”