A phone call the night before football practice began at Marshall High School this season encouraging senior Jordan Culbreath to return to the field was met with the same answer Culbreath had been giving his friends on the team all summer: No.
But overnight, Culbreath spent some time thinking about his decision. A junior varsity player as a sophomore, Culbreath skipped football last season to pursue offseason work in basketball and baseball. The bug to play football again was becoming stronger -- Culbreath hadn't taken more than a year off from playing since he started at age 7 -- and the promises from friends such as Nima Khalilian, Jacob Orndorff and Vince Reece, who made the call, of an increased team-wide dedication to the sport made Culbreath reconsider. The next day Culbreath showed up at practice ready to play.
The Statesmen are ecstatic that he did.
Through three games this season, all of them Marshall victories, Culbreath leads the team in both rushing and receiving with 400 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns. His play has helped Marshall reverse its fortunes from the previous two seasons, already eclipsing its win total from the last two years combined. The Statesmen went winless in 2003 and 2-8 last year.
"I didn't think my decision would be that much of a impact on the team," Culbreath said. "I knew I would have some impact, but I'm really happy with how things are going so far."
Still, Culbreath credited Marshall's turnaround much more to the team's improved attitude than any other factor. Third-year coach J.T. Biddison knew things were going to be different this season after seeing the turnout at his first 7 a.m. Saturday practice.
"Not one guy missed or was late for that practice," Biddison said. "In the past, we always had to try to track kids down. When everyone was there, I thought that these guys might be ready to gel this year."
Khalilian, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound center-defensive end, echoed Biddison's outlook.
"Last year, when we had 7 a.m. practices, people would show up at 7:15, 7:30 and even later," he said. "This year, people are getting in at 6:45 or 6:30, excited to play."
The true test for Marshall, however, starts this week when the team opens up its Liberty District schedule against defending Northern Region Division 5 champion W.T. Woodson. The Cavaliers (1-2) have given up over 900 yards rushing in their three games, providing opportunities for Culbreath and fellow running back Chris Hurlburt to make their presence felt. However, W.T. Woodson has played powerful squads like Centreville and Westfield, while the combined record of the teams Marshall has defeated is 0-8.
Biddison said that he couldn't call the season successful until the Statesmen proved they could be competitive with some of the teams in their district. Marshall hasn't won a district game since 2001.
"I don't know that we've accomplished that much yet," he said. "To me, we've done about what we did last year so far. We beat the two teams that we beat last year and the third team we beat last year in a scrimmage. I don't necessarily think we've done all that much more. We're not finished yet, though. Hopefully, we can keep improving."