On the morning of Dec. 18, TK Marshall sat with family and friends inside of Southwest High School and signed a letter of intent committing to the North Dakota State football team.
Marshall, who was Southwest’s top running back for four years, said the moment wasn’t very sentimental.
“I was excited, but I was ready for it, because I was waiting for that day,” he said.
For Southwest, it marked a milestone. It was the first time a football player had signed with a Division I college football program under Josh Zoucha, who became head coach in 2013.
Zoucha said he couldn’t think of anyone more deserving to be his first Division I player than Marshall.
“What he’s done for our team and [what] his class [has done] for our team is going to have lasting effects after they’re gone,” he said.
Marshall, 18, has been playing organized football since he was about 9 years old.
He originally played at Powderhorn Park but switched to the now-defunct Armatage-based Southwest Area Football Association (SWAFA) when he was in seventh grade. He also began training with the DeLaSalle High School football team that year.
Marshall, who decided to attend Southwest because he wanted to attend a public school, joined the Lakers football team the summer before starting ninth grade in 2016.
He began the season as the team’s backup running back but assumed the starting role after an injury to the lead back.
Marshall said that first season, in which the team went 1-8, was difficult but that he focused on improving for future years. He said he and his peers from SWAFA who joined the Lakers focused on getting stronger in the offseason, noting their dedication to an offseason weightlifting program.
“We kind of changed the culture around here,” he said. “The atmosphere around the team changed.”
Southwest went 4-5 in Marshall’s sophomore year, his first of three as a team captain, and 3-6 in his junior year. This past season, the team went 7-3 and reached the semifinals of its section tournament.
Marshall led the team with 1,662 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns and was named a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Football award, which is given annually to the state’s top player.
Zoucha said he expected to play Marshall as a freshman, though not necessarily as the starting running back.
He said Marshall and his classmates have been instrumental in building the team’s offseason weightlifting program the past few years.
“Ten years ago, we would have four kids lifting in the offseason,” he said. “[Now], we have half our team lifting in the offseason.”
College football was an early goal for Marshall, who has an older brother who played soccer at the University of St. Thomas.
He said college teams have “had an eye on him” since his freshman year.
Zoucha said Marshall received interest from Division I schools across the Midwest, including Big Ten schools like Minnesota and Iowa.
Marshall received scholarship offers from smaller Division I schools such as North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, he said, and had offers to play at the bigger schools, though not necessarily on scholarship.
Marshall, who committed to North Dakota State before this school year, said he liked that the team was the only one he visited that didn’t brag about its facilities.
He also was impressed by the program’s success.
The Bison have won eight Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national championships in the past nine years. In 2019, they went 16-0 and extended their FCS-record winning streak to 37 games.
Marshall also liked that he was able to talk directly with North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz and not just with a recruiter.
Entz, who just finished his first season as head coach, said Marshall was “unbelievably” easy to talk to and has a great sense of who he is and what he wants to do with his football career.
“We’re fortunate to get him,” he said.
Marshall said he’s not positive where he’ll be on the team’s depth chart when the 2020 season starts but that he’d love to see some playing time as a freshman.
His high school position coach, Donnell Kirkwood, said he expects Marshall will be a solid college player, noting how he became stronger and improved in his techniques as his high school career progressed.
“He has put in the hours, he has put in the time and he’s done it right,” said Aaron Gerhardt, a former Lakers assistant coach who also coaches Marshall on the Southwest track and field team.
Marshall plans on going to Fargo this summer to take classes and practice with the team. Academically, he’s interested in some sort of liberal arts degree with a potential focus on product design or graphic design.
He said he’s optimistic that he and his fellow seniors helped generate more interested in football at Southwest.
He also said he expects at least one upcoming Lakers senior to sign with a Division I program next school year.
“There’s going to be more to come,” he said.