In a computer lab that seemed more fitted for its day’s task of staging ground for Long Beach Polytechnic’s National Signing Day ceremonies than actual instruction and knowledge dissemination, five-star cornerback Iman Marshall sat down in a chair and his shoulders slumped ever so slightly.
Gone was the bravado. Absent was the quick smile and the gleaming eyes. Not to be found either were the microphones and cameras. The only spotlights were caused by the in and out spotty fluorescent overhead lights in the muggy room.
Marshall’s Signing Day announcement video had already been released and his nationally televised live interview with ESPNU had been completed. He had already taken pictures with seemingly every single aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, coach, janitor, librarian or random passer by in the adjacent Long Beach Poly library. Though the school wasn’t letting other students enter the ceremonies, a fresh handful of classmates had kept popping up asking for a selfie, a groupie, an Insta post, a Snap or any other combination of photos.
But now Marshall was isolated in the corner of the makeshift backstage room. The other Long Beach Poly students in the room — all athletes of various sports signing National Letters of Intent — were all buzzing with excitement as they were about to get to partake in their big day. They left their most high-profile classmate alone with his earlier announcement.
Marshall had even absconded the gray suit jacket with purple lining and stitching that had been tailored to fit him perfectly while he stared into the camera and said he was choosing to attend the University of Southern California. For just a brief moment, the weight of the recruiting process and the spotlight had perched atop his shoulders and he took a moment to take a deep breathe and soak it all in.
Like a CEO after an intense merger, Iman “Biggie” Marshall was enthralled by his business decision, but also relieved to have it completed. He enjoyed a quick moment of relaxation.
That’s exactly how Marshall, his family and the Long Beach Poly coaching staff conducted the entire recruiting process — as a business.
“That’s how we treated this whole season. It’s business-minded,” Long Beach Poly head coach Antonio Pierce said. “I told him to make the most out of it. Don’t let the media, don’t let football, don’t let these colleges run him. He’s in charge of his own life. He’s now a little minor CEO. Be a businessman. As he was dressed today, he was business-minded and that’s what sets him apart is his mentality in that sense.”
The tailored suit, slick dress shoes and crisp tie were no casual choice. While national prospects had graced television screens throughout the day wearing t-shirts or hooded sweatshirts, it was all about presentation for Marshall.
“I feel like presentation is the most important thing, especially in situations and occasions like this," Marshall said. "I understood I’m a businessman and I’m a future businessman, so I try to handle and dress appropriately for certain occasions. Always look sharp. Don’t have your jacket too long. Certain things of that nature because it represents you as a person. It’s all about representation and your brand. At the end of the day, it’s about a brand.”
That mentality was instilled by Iman’s father, Tony, a former Long Beach Poly football player who has constantly preached to his son that once he steps between the lines of the football field, it’s a business and that he should treat it accordingly. It was also important to carry that thought process over to Iman’s recruitment.
“I told him," recalled his father, "‘When we go through this process, it’s going to be a business approach. You’re going to conduct yourself. You’re going to look the part. You’re going to play the part. You’re not going to have a hoodie on getting interviewed on national TV. You’re going to have a suit and tie on. You’re going to speak well, eloquently. Articulate all of your words. Enunciate all of your words. And just come off as a well-mannered and respectable kid.’”
Tony says he knew Iman was going to be a national prospect by the time Iman was in the eighth grade. So that’s when he started taking note of the recruiting process for other Southern California players. Tony noted defensive backs in particular.
He watched how Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) four-star safety Tahaan Goodman handled himself in 2013. He examined how the recruitment of Gardena (Calif.) Serra five-star Adoree Jackson and Long Beach Poly’s own Juju Smith progressed and ultimately concluded in front of live national television audiences on National Signing Day in 2014. He studied how certain situations were handled and assessed the best way for his son to address each one were they to come up.
While the Marshall family did as much research as it could leading into the season, there are always some things for which you can’t plan. How do you prepare for a porn star Tweeting her opinion of what school Iman should attend or a coach you have tremendous admiration and respect for leaving the NFL ranks to take over a traditional powerhouse? That’s where being able to pick Pierce’s brain and rely on his guidance became priceless.
“It’s invaluable because this journey is new for me. No matter how much I researched it, it’s new,” Tony said. “Having someone like Coach Pierce go through the process already, playing at the highest level — not only playing at the highest level, but being successful at the highest level on and off the football field — that’s invaluable.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be an elite athlete like Iman Marshall,” Pierce said. “You only get one chance to do it right and do it the right way and he’s doing it.”
The Marshall family took that to heart and set out making his recruitment about seeing what everyone had to offer. Iman loved USC and felt as a high school freshman that he could see himself becoming a Trojan.
“Everybody, especially as a kid, you dream of it being a USC fan. Seeing the Reggie Bushs, winning national titles with Pete Carroll and the Matt Leinarts and all of that stuff, of course you say to yourself, I want to play there one day in the Coliseum,” Iman said. “This is my dream most importantly, but I understand that you can’t get lost in the dream.”
With USC being a short drive away, he had been to campus many times. But when his recruiting started heating up down the stretch, USC was the one place that he avoided. Instead of joining the large group of USC commits and a few select targets for an official visit on Jan. 16, Iman was clear across the country, taking an official visit to Florida State.
Three days later he was in Ann Arbor visiting with new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh on an official visit. After returning home for a brief stay to basically pick up some new clothes and his father, Iman was back in the air flying to Louisiana to take an official visit with LSU.
“That’s something that I’m going to remember forever," Marshall said. "Having the opportunity to talk to Jim Harbaugh, he’s a great coach, a great man most importantly. His parents as well. Being able to have an opportunity to talk to them was great. Jimbo Fisher, Tim Brewster ... Corey Raymond at LSU... Brian Kelly. Those are all great programs and I appreciate them extending the offer and the scholarships to me and bringing me on campus, but SC is where I needed to be.”
Rather than staying local or even regional, Iman Marshall wanted to get out and see what options were available. His father wanted him to experience other regions of the country and realize how different each one is.
“You don’t want to be myopic,” Tony said. “A lot of things, people look at it from a narrow prism and they don’t experience different things. They just don’t have the knowledge because they just understand their own little bubble. I don’t want him to do that. I want him to experience and see himself being able to play at a Florida State, which we came very close to choosing, or an LSU or Michigan. You don’t know how these experiences are unless you put yourself in that position.”
That’s why instead of spending time chumming it up with future teammates in Los Angeles, Iman was busy logging the frequent flyer miles going to Florida State where he was told he could be the next “Prime Time” Deion Sanders, heading to Michigan where he had the opportunity to follow in the Heisman footsteps of Charles Woodson mand enjoying some delicious Cajun cuisine where he was shown he could join the Tigers’ recent defensive back legacy.
“It was a fact-finding mission,” Tony said. “We came into this process, contrary to what people thought, with an open mind of giving every school a fair shot. We wanted to look at every situation on its own merits, so that’s what we did. We wanted to go out there and see is this a place he could see himself at for the next four years.”
“To be honest, I had seen SC millions of times,” Iman said. “I just wanted to get the opportunity to see other schools out there and what they can bring to me or if it’s better than what SC can bring to me and stuff like that. And as you see today, I believed that it wasn’t.”
It wasn’t just the on-the-field product that led USC to be chosen. It was the facilities, the teammates, the weather and also the alumni network that was really important.
“That’s what I really looked into for my decision,” Iman said, speaking of the alumni networks. “It’s not the football side of it because all of the schools I was looking at are great football programs.”
While he mentioned Michigan and Notre Dame having strong networks and foundations to build a successful path after football, he said “at the end of the day, I got the same thing at SC and you can’t beat this sunny day for four seasons.”
Another bonus of playing at USC was the proximity to his family and particularly his father, Tony. The bond between father and son was essential throughout the entire recruiting process. Tony was the gatekeeper for Iman.
While Iman is never overwhelmed when on the football field, Tony wanted to make sure he didn’t get overrun by the entirety of his recruitment with all the phone calls, visits, social media messages and the hordes and hordes of mail that was sent to the Marshall household. Tony essentially screened all calls to make sure his son was never overwhelmed.
“I’ve seen kids, before they even go down the home stretch, get burned out on the whole process," his father said. "I wanted my son to still be fresh at the finish line. I wanted him to be able to look back and reflect on this and have fond memories on this process and I think he will.”
Often times when a parent is highly involved in their child’s recruitment, it can be hard to separate their own desires with that of the kid’s, but Tony said he purposely promoted other teams to try to balance out any biases that may have been perceived.
“We have a close relationship. I think that’s well documented,” Tony said. “Everybody knows I’m very influential in the decisions that he decided to make. But I know that. I was conscientious of that, so I made sure I didn’t favor one program or another. Really, I was kind of promoting other teams, to be honest with you, to kind of balance things out. It was his decision. He felt like USC was the best place for him and that’s the reason he chose it.”
Tony respected Iman’s decision and said he would have been perfectly fine with seeing Iman go across the country as well, but he is happy that he’ll still be able to see his son regularly and spend time with him.
The two sat down the night before National Signing Day and, after a discussion with one of the coaches that Tony said seemed to be the tipping point, talked about the potential decision.
“He kind of just said, ‘I think this is the home, this is the place for me.’ When he said that, I said, ‘That might be the home for you. I’m not going to talk you out of it. If you feel comfortable with your decision, ride with it.’”
While Tony Marshall knew his son’s decision and Biggie’s announcement video had already begun to go viral, once Iman put on the USC hat and announced his decision, Tony couldn’t hold back the emotion.
As soon as the ESPNU interview was over, he grabbed Iman by the nape of the neck like a big Papa Bear with his cub. He pulled him close and whispered in his ear while his eyes filled with the emotion of a long journey from pee-wees to the national spotlight of National Signing Day. Then Tony clasped Iman’s hand and pulled his son in tight for a seated grizzly hug.
“That was big! When you’re having your kids running cones, catching balls when they’re six or seven years old, you envision that moment for them to be able to choose whatever school they want to choose,” Tony said. “It was a beautiful thing to see him have that hat on. To just right before your eyes see him grow up. I see a man now. I see not my son, but I see a young man in front of me now. It hit me right there.”
Later, while talking about his father and how much he helped him throughout the entire recruitment, Iman’s eyes started to water a bit as well.
“The decision was done by me, but after seeing and after weighing everything out, he helped me see all avenues,” Iman said. “It helped tremendously. He’s been there since day one and always let me see all sides of everything, every situation.”
With one business decision out of the way, Iman Marshall will now get to work on his next business venture: playing at USC where he’s already set some lofty goals, including being a Freshman All-American, USC’s second Jim Thorpe Award winner and then becoming a first round draft pick, Pro Bowler and eventual Hall of Fame member. There’s also the national championship that Iman has promised USC will win.
But the man that - for a quick instance on National Signing Day took a seat without his suit jacket and let it all sink in - knows what it takes to accomplish those goals.
“Everyday, I’ve got to take it on as a business and work hard,” he said. “[Former USC and NFL cornerback] Darrell Rideaux told me two days ago that you’ve got to sleep, live, wake up and grind hard if you want to be that dude.”
Shortly after taking a moment for himself, Iman Marshall was excited about the opportunity to play with Su'a Cravens and Adoree' Jackson and declared that the USC defensive backs were going to get the job done.
“I gotta get my playbook tonight. We gonna work! I’m working baby!”