Virginia as a state may be one of the country’s hotbeds of football talent, but the four Falls Church area high schools aren’t regular contributors to that status. That’s why the diminutive but dominant Falls Church High School senior running back Dakwandre Marshall is so special within the local sports scene.
Standing at 5’7 and 160 pounds, Marshall wouldn’t strike anyone as an elite product by just scanning the Jaguars’ sideline. But the Falls Church native has made a name for himself despite the perceived limitations of his stature.
In his senior season, Marshall’s amassed 2,278 yards on the ground to go with 37 touchdowns. Coupled with a sophomore season when he rushed for 1,610 yards and 31 touchdowns and a “down” junior year where he compiled 1,988 yards but only 17 touchdowns, the running back is a mere 124 yards shy of breaking 6,000 in his career and getting a personalized dedication in the school’s trophy case. It’s an otherworldly accomplishment for a player whose skills aren’t apparent until he’s got the ball in his hands.
“The strongest part of my game is finding the holes where to run through, and not being brought down by one tackler,” Marshall said, before Falls Church head coach Said Aziz chimed in, “Some coaches will tell me that they didn’t know he was that fast or quick, but most of them say they didn’t know he was that physical.”
Marshall lived up to his billing in the school’s annual rivalry “Bell Game” against Justice High School last Friday. Duking it out for bragging rights of Falls Church’s best on the rain-soaked turf, it only took five plays for Marshall to showcase his talent.
That’s when he took a stretch run to the left for about 20 yards before slipping in between two would-be tacklers and booking it to the endzone to complete the 51-yard dash. On a goal line possession late in the third quarter, the very threat of Marshall was on display. A play-action set caused linebackers to swarm Marshall, only to give Falls Church’s quarterback a clear path to pay dirt. The senior stuck the knife in and twisted it with a hectic 11-yard run where he reversed field for one score and a standard goal-line dive for another to help win the Bell back for the Jaguars in a 31-12 victory. He finished the night with 257 yards to go with three touchdowns.
Defeating Justice clinched the National District title and set up Falls Church to host two playoff games, starting with one this Friday versus Potomac Falls High School.
But a month and a half ago, this scenario barely seemed possible.
The Jaguars face-planted out of the gate by losing their first four games. It was a frustrating time for the team, especially Marshall, who felt his talent was being masked in order to prevent teams from keying in on him. Aziz’s tight bond with Marshall allowed him to sense the senior’s frustration and decided it was time to quit being cute about his star’s integral role in the offense.
“He’s a Division 1 running back — he should get the ball every play,” Aziz added, while mentioning he’s using a similar template with Marshall as he did when he coached two-time Super Bowl champion Torrey Smith down at Stafford High School. “Now he gets the ball 35-40 times a game, and we’re successful when we give him the ball a lot.”
The offense now runs through Marshall, and only switches its approach when opposing defenses over-commit to stopping him. During the Jaguars six-game sprint, Marshall accumulated 1,737 of his yards, averaging 289.5 yards per game, to go with 31 touchdowns — including one game where he scored seven and two others where he scored six.
Common knowledge would suggest that Marshall’s production positions him as one of the most desirable recruiting prospects in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region. However, he hasn’t passed the eye test to many college programs that are unsure how his size will translate to a more competitive game. And that’s after Aziz has sent his game tape to over 100 schools nationwide while serving as Marshall’s unofficial agent.
Currently, Marshall’s verbally committed to Morgan State in Baltimore, though that won’t be official until national signing day in early February. He’s still holding out for an offer from a Power 5 school in the meantime. Until then, Marshall doesn’t worry about how other schools view his value, just what he has to do to get in their good graces.
“I’ll just keep grinding, and hopefully I’ll start getting some more of those looks from bigger schools,” Marshall said.
Coming into the year, Marshall had three goals: Win the district, win back the Bell and rush for over 2,000 yards. By his count, he’s checked off every item on the list. Now he’s free to set his sights on bigger challenges to conquer. That’s cause for concern for the teams on the Jaguars’ schedule.