Hes 40 now, an entrepreneur and charity worker who sells organic coffee grown in Jamaicas Blue Mountains. One minute hes in India. The next, hes in Brazil, Ethiopia, Los Angeles or New York.
Rohan Marley is a busy man. But ask him to talk about his eldest son, Nico, a senior on Cypress Bay High Schools football team, and the former University of Miami linebacker can hardly contain himself.
Hes really impressive. When I see him, I see myself as a better player. He plays like I played in college. Hes everywhere, said Marley, who in 1993 led the Hurricanes in tackles. I remember when he was a little boy in Jamaica and I was still training, playing football in the [Canadian Football League] I took him to the beach with me when he was 2. I ran full speed down the beach holding his hand. He ran with me all the way. Thats when I knew he was a tough boy.
Nico Marley has grown up to be quite a linebacker just like his father before him. At 5-8, 190 pounds, he has the same undersized build as his dad, who starred at Miami Palmetto before playing for the Hurricanes. According to his coaches, Nico also has the same passion and pride as his father to play beyond any size limitations.
A three-year starter and the leading tackler for the Lightning (11-2) each of the past two seasons, Marley has Cypress Bay on the doorstep of reaching its first state title game. The only hurdle left is to beat visiting Miami Columbus (9-4) on Friday in a Class 8A state semifinal.
People can talk about his size, this and that, but hes a special, special player, said Lightning coach Mark Guandolo, who compares Marley to a smaller version of Panthers All-Pro Jon Beason, whom he coached at Hollywood Chaminade. Ive never seen someone manhandle him. He takes people on, is always productive, always around the ball. Hes thick. Hes strong. Hes a bull. He has that Marley spirit, just something so strong that gets us all going.
Marley, known more for being a quiet leader, got his teammates going last Friday in the Region 3-8A final at Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge. With his team trailing 14-3 at halftime and many teammates down, Marley lit into them just as they were standing outside of the locker room. Linebackers coach Josue Uribe said coaches quickly rushed players in and shut the door.
The coaches? They stayed outside.
As coaches we saw what was going on and let them handle it themselves, Uribe said.
Said Guandolo: Thats when you know you have a chance when it starts coming from the leaders on the field.
Cypress Bay responded by shutting out Seminole Ridge 28-0 over the final two quarters. The Hawks picked up just on first down in the second half and threw two interceptions, including a 58-yard return for a touchdown by Lightning safety Alex Montgomery that sealed the victory.
He was basically telling us we had to wake up because we were playing real soft in the first half, and that this wasnt going to be our last game, said leading rusher Matt Dayes, who scored twice in the second half. Hes our leader on and off the field, but it was very unexpected. When we heard his speech everyone picked their heads up. We were good from there.
Marley, who finished with 64 tackles in the regular season, has been committed to Tulane University since this summer. Rated a two-star recruit by Rivals.com, his father said he would love for Hurricanes coaches to take a chance on him, but hes not pushing it.
He has the ability. He has the fire too, said the elder Marley, who has kept up with his sons games online when he hasnt been in town to see him. One thing I always tell him [is] its a lions order out there. Eat everyone alive, rip their heads off. Thats the order in football. Be mean all the time. He pretty much is. But I keep telling him anyway.
Marley, who benches 335 pounds, squats 400 pounds and power cleans 250 pounds, is also very intelligent. He has a 3.75 GPA and makes all the calls on Cypress Bays defense. Sometimes, Uribe said, the Lightning rely on Marley a bit too much.
The Lightning will be counting on Marley to shut down Columbus running game. The Explorers have two dangerous senior tailbacks who have run for over 1,000 yards this season: Daryl Chestnut (5-8, 181) and Lorenzo Woodley (6-0, 203).
Chestnut is the home-run threat (11.1 average) with 1,135 yards and 14 TDs on 102 carries. Woodley is the powerful workhorse (6.4 average) with 1,038 yards on 162 yards and 23 TDs on 162 carries.
They play hard, both real good players, Marley said. But were ready for it. Its going to be a great game.