Saturday, 8 December 2012

GOTW Interview - Todd Marquis, Warwick Wolves ILB

In our build up to our 'Game of the Week' between the Birmingham Lions and Warwick Wolves, we were able to grab a quick interview with Todd Marquis. Todd is an American student currently completing his PhD at Warwick University.

Before we begin the interview properly, can you provide the readers a bit of information on yourself and your own playing experiences?
My own playing experience is at Liberty University, a member of the Big South Conference in NCAA Division 1 football. In America, I got a relatively late start, playing my first organized year of football when I was about 13, then playing through high school and college.

After college, I played in a sort of developmental league in central Virginia. Effectively, it’s a league made of guys who either were trying to play professionally or guys who had played and were trying to develop some sort of skill or something before going back. It was also a good league for those who played arena football, as their season ended just before ours began, though the nearest team was 2 hours away in Richmond.

It’s a bit of a long story, but I felt confident I was going to get an NFL camp invite after that first season, and prepared fully for some regional combines and American tryouts for the Canadian Football League.

Before I could make any of these combines, I contracted an infection called MRSA, which by itself nearly killed me.

My parents came down to Virginia from Ohio to be with me, and just as they began planning my funeral, I finally took a turn for the better, and after a month in the ICU, was finally released from the hospital. However, less than a week later, I was back in for open heart surgery to transplant a new heart valve, as the old one had been damaged by the infection.

I knew then that, no matter how much I stood out at my game, the risk was too great for any team to pick me up. I did get back into shape and play for the Virginia team again, but this time it was just to show that I could, without the pressure of trying to go on to the next level. I also played a partial season for an arena team in Texas, but, frankly, the pay wasn’t worth the investment of time and expenses, so I opted out after only a part of the time there.

You asked about photos of me from Liberty University. I have to admit; I have scoured the web and my own personal collection, and can’t find any game pictures. As odd as this sounds, the digital camera is a fairly modern invention and really hasn’t caught on until the last 6 or 7 years.

As not many people know the players at Warwick, can you provide some brief information on the players to watch?
I have to admit that I’m not quite as savvy on the history of this league, this team, or any key players. That said, I can really only drop a few names and positions without knowing much about history.

Our Quarterback is Joe Watt. He has played for a team in London and has in the past lived in Cincinnati. He has a good arm and great knowledge of the game, and his strength is that he remains cool in the pocket, even under pressure.

Our second offensive star is Prince Ajose. He is an athlete who plays football, but happens to play football quite well. He is our running back who has the ability to make the reads and find the holes. This is a valuable tool in a league with people who may not have a lot of experience, since any offensive line isn’t infallible with the run. Prince is playing his best football right now, and appears to only be getting better week by week.

Ian Sheldrake is a star receiver who had 2 touchdowns against Northampton in our first game and some 150 yards receiving. He was also Warwick Sport athlete of the week that week. 
It isn’t fair that I can really only list the skill positions, as we have some offensive linemen that, had they grown up in America and lived in the system, would have the capability of playing college ball there. Among them is Luke Selzer, who plays (I think) for Tamworth in the summer, and Conor Durham, our team president.

On the defensive side of the ball, we have Matt Fleming, who is playing his first game after suffering a separated shoulder in our team scrimmage a month ago, myself at middle linebacker, and D and Wayne Drew at defensive tackle. Sadly, I don’t know anything about any of their playing experiences outside of what I have seen on the field.

You've previously mentioned that you've played at D1 level in college before playing arena ball. How does playing the UK compare to your previous experience in the states?
The fact of the matter is, any comparison wouldn’t be fair. American football is a cash cow, and your life pretty much consists of only football.

The coaches set your class schedules, give you personal tutors, provide any form of counseling, and effectively help keep your life on track. There are the big things, such as practicing 5 days/week for 2-3 hours/day, having a training staff, strength training staff, state of the art facilities, etc.

There are also off the field issues, such as the recognition that comes with being a football player, or the extra facilities that go to academic help. The game day and pre-gameday routines were important, and you of course never get the energy of playing in front of 20,000 or more people here in England.

One thing that is the same, though, is the sense of family that comes with the team. It sort of turned into a figure of speech in my American locker rooms that someone on the team will be the best man at your wedding.

There are people on these teams in the UK who join the team because of the social aspect, then what they find is that the social aspect really only grows through getting your hands dirty and fighting in the trenches, win or lose, for the other guys on your team.

We have a number of new guys on our team that joined for that very reason, but they are finding that, while their motives for joining were social, their motives for staying are because they have come to love football. The social aspect doesn’t fall to the background, but becomes intertwined with every other aspect through the family atmosphere that necessarily comes from the joys and sorrows of playing any sport, of which I would argue football is the greatest.

There are a million differences between playing in the US and the UK, but that is the chief similarity, and the most important. If you play on a football team anywhere in the world, that team is a family. This truth crosses cultural boundaries

Having played in front of thousands of fans whilst at college, what's it like now playing on a field in the middle of a park in front of 10-20 people, if that?
I would be lying if I said that you don’t notice the crowd in a big game, and that their energy doesn’t emanate down to the field of play. It does.

Also, everything I learned about communicating during the game: signals from the sideline, the way you communicate with other plays on the field, etc. But when you get down to the nitty gritty of the game, the best athletes are those that never notice the crowd. It’s that feeling of being in the zone.
As a linebacker, for me it’s that feeling of making the read, rushing the gap, and smacking the ball carrier. Everything off the field of play is white noise.

For our first game of the year, my wife was present. We have been married for over 5 years, but she has never seen me play before. It was a big day for us, but I had forgotten that she was there because when I was on that field, everything else faded away.

I hadn’t played football in years, and all I could think of was what is their offense doing, what do I expect them to do next, and how do I stop it?

I'm guessing you've seen the footage and heard the stories of the Lions from your teammates, what are your own thoughts on the team as you head into the game? Are you relishing the underdog role in this game?
I am new to this league, but am well aware of Birmingham’s reputation. Yet, I have been playing football long enough to know that there is never an established order until the games have been played. Everything must be proven on the field.

I have been watching a lot of film of Birmingham over the last few weeks, and there is no question that they have a lot of very good athletes.

Tristan Varney is a very talented quarterback, and had he grown up playing the game in America, who knows what kind of potential he might have realized? Conroy is a very gifted athlete and has the ability to make the reads that only seasoned football players can make.

I have of course only scouted their offense, but what I have seen from their defense is very impressive.

 I don’t know much about the other teams in this league, but they appear disciplined and athletic enough to hang with anyone. That said, we don’t think of it as an upset and we don’t think of ourselves as underdogs.

Not many people are expecting you to do well in this game, what makes you believe that you can cause one of the biggest upsets in Uni ball history? Are you willing to predict a final score?
I know that it is easy to look at a team that finished 2-6 last year and expect more of the same this year. But this isn’t the same team. This year’s Warwick Wolves have already avenged two losses last year and have allowed only one touchdown in two games, against a couple of teams that deserve more respect than they get.

Our defense held both of those teams to a combined 2 first downs in the first half, and have had a scoring swing of 74 points in those two games (from losing by a combined 45 to winning by a combined 29). Birmingham is a great team. They might be the greatest. But this year’s version of the Warwick Wolves feels disrespected.

I wouldn’t be much of a competitor if I didn’t walk into this game or any game with the legitimate belief that we will win. It’s that competitiveness that makes the good great. I will admit that I am personally not in my athletic prime, but my competitiveness hasn’t waned in the least. It is a competitiveness that I share with the rest of my team.

I can’t comment on how this game will end, but we are prepared for a dogfight. Our goal is nothing more than to score more points than they do. If you call that an upset, then so be it. That is not a prediction. It is our goal. Yet win or lose, this game will be played on the field, and we will learn a lot about both teams in the process.


  1. This kid sounds like he is a real asset to this team. I hope he enjoys his time in the UK. Sounds like Warwick is a playoff contender this year. Good Luck to them...

  2. So glad I'm going to watch this game. Every team would love a guy like this playing for them.


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