TOLEDO — When Dickinson State defensive line coach Jake Crawford reached out to Jacob Marley on Twitter in early summer, Marley had never even heard of the Blue Hawks before. He had no idea where Dickinson, North Dakota was.
Marley, a senior at Toledo High School who is rated a 2-star all-purpose back by 247 Sports, had garnered some interest from multiple programs at the time, including Eastern Washington, Arizona Christian, Montana Tech and Redlands. No serious talks had been made. That’s why when Dickinson State reached out he didn’t get too excited.
As the conversations continued, Crawford said the Blue Hawks staff liked the way Marley played after seeing his tape on Hudl, then began selling the program and the school.
“At first I didn’t think much of it,” Marley said. “But then I kind of started buying into it… it made me feel really appreciated. I guess that’s kind of why I bought into it so fast.”
Marley began doing some research and saw how successful the team has been over recent years. Dickinson State is a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) program that has won 27 conference championships and netted 20 national playoff appearances. They’ve won the past five North Star Athletic Conference championships and finished 2019 ranked No. 17 in the final NAIA top-25 poll. They are currently 3-0 on the season and first place in the six-team NSAA, one of six NAIA conferences still aiming to play at least a portion of its football schedule this fall.
“I wanted to play and they were giving me an opportunity,” Marley said. “It didn’t even matter; D-I, D-II, NAIA. I was extremely blessed.”
Marley went on a campus visit in late July with his mother to the western North Dakota town that’s about the same population as Centralia. Marley was able to try on a full uniform and tour the football field, locker room and athletic facilities. But it wasn’t until Marley and his mother arrived back home to Washington that coach Crawford FaceTimed him and offered him a scholarship.
“I was so stoked,” Marley said. “I was just in shock, you know? It was like a dream come true.”
Marley’s high school football career started when he won a starting job on the defensive line as an undersized sophomore. By junior year, he was a two-way starter at both defensive line and as an all-purpose back. He helped the Indians reach the 2B state semifinals for the second-straight year in 2018, then to a state quarterfinal appearance in 2019.
Though the two-time all-league defensive lineman was more of a blocking back in the Indians’ offense, he did get touches, and when he did, good things happened. That’s why he is being recruited by Dickinson State as an all-purpose back. His 5-foot-8, 170-pound frame wouldn’t hold up on the defensive line in college anyway.
“I saw some of Dickinson State’s linemen on Twitter who are like 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, and I just could not deal with that,” Marley said.
Marley has spent the summer staying in shape by playing in a 7-on-7 league for the Olympia Outlaws. His team is playing in a tournament this weekend in Idaho. He’s also a part of the Thorbecks Athletic Program, a popular training program for high schoolers in Chehalis, and has been running on an underwater treadmill.
“I’ve been hitting it hard this offseason,” Marley said.
For now, he’s just preparing for this upcoming football season this spring after the WIAA moved it from fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Marley said the Indians are going to start offseason workouts in the near future after having a few over the summer. He’s anxious to get back on the field and make his mark one last time for the Indians, then show everyone he’s deserving of his roster spot at Dickinson State.
“Prove to coach Crawford and the coaching staff that it was worth it to take a shot on me, a small-town kid,” Marley said. “Prove to people who didn’t believe in me that I can do it at the next level as well. It’s a big proving ground to me. I’ve just got to make some people proud.”