Marist goes with veteran coach Marshall, the ex-Snyder miracle worker

The Marist football team will feature a very young roster this season. From left are Orlando Purnell, Malik Bails, Anthony Passariello, head coach Ray Marshall, Deon Keahey, Isaiah Eason and Eric King.
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The Marist football team will feature a very young roster this season. From left are Orlando Purnell, Malik Bails, Anthony Passariello, head coach Ray Marshall, Deon Keahey, Isaiah Eason and Eric King.

After four seasons at Snyder High School, where he totally turned around a moribund and lackluster program into a team that qualified for the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time in 28 years, Ray Marshall has moved down a little south on Kennedy Boulevard to Marist and become the head coach of the Royal Knights.

Marshall, the former Lincoln and St. Peter’s University star when the Peacocks had a football program, has inherited a Marist program that has fallen on some serious tough times in recent years.

Marshall said that he was appreciated at his new locale right from the outset.

“Everyone welcomed me with open arms,” Marshall said. “I think everyone is excited about the direction in which we are going. It was really an easy transition. The kids are great. The ones coming in have been good.”

As it turns out, Marshall had an unofficial agent working for him to get the Marist coaching job. Marshall’s son Anthony was the basketball team’s manager last year. Anthony Marshall put the idea in the ear of Marist athletic director Mauro DeGennaro.

“He told Mo [DeGennaro’s nickname] that I wasn’t coaching at Snyder anymore,” Marshall said. “He said, ‘I can get my father in for an interview.’ He was literally my agent.”

DeGennaro entrusted Marshall to turn the Royal Knights’ fortunes around much like he did at Snyder.

“We had seven guys back from last year’s team,” Marshall said. “They were receptive and wanted to learn. When I first got there, I knew it was going to be a tough haul.”

Quite frankly, it won’t be easy.

Marshall’s roster includes only four seniors. The Royal Knights feature a host of freshmen.

“It’s still an uphill battle,” said Marshall, whose team lost to Sussex County Tech in the season opener Sept. 6. “We’re starting seven freshmen on offense and six freshmen on defense. We have an all-freshman secondary. Yeah, it’s real tough. But we’re going to compete every game. We’re playing the whole game hard. I’ve been impressed with the way the kids compete. Our future looks so bright.”

Marshall is entrusting his offense in the hands of freshman quarterback Zyil Powell (5-11, 165).

“He’s a very athletic kid,” Marshall said of Powell. “He came from a good program [the Hudson County Dolphins, coached by former St. Anthony basketball star Ike Williams]. He picked up things really quick. He wants to learn and wants to be a good quarterback.”

The main running back is senior Angel Ortiz (5-11, 185).

“He’s a tough rugged downhill runner,” Marshall said. “He has been a real good leader. He just wants to win.”

Junior Xavier Daniels (5-9, 180) is also a solid running back. Daniels is a transfer from Morris Catholic.

“He’s a pretty good football player,” Marshall said of Daniels. “He had 100 yards rushing in our first game.”

Sophomore Darius Neal (5-7, 160), a transfer from Hudson Catholic, and sophomore Aaron Wadley (5-8, 165) are the receivers.

The tight end is sophomore Edward Kelleher (6-0, 175).

The offensive line has decent size and some experience. Senior tackle Orlando Purnell (6-1, 255) and senior center Anthony Passariello (6-2, 255) are both three-year veterans.

However, the rest of the line consists of pure freshmen. Tackle Eric King (6-3, 260), guard Deon Keahey (5-11, 230) and guard Malik Bails (6-1, 210) are all first-year 14-year-olds.

“They’re 14-year-old kids playing against 18-year-old men,” Marshall said. “That’s asking a lot.”

The defensive alignment uses a 4-2-5 formation.

King and Keahey are the defensive ends, with Passariello and Purnell at defensive tackle.

The linebackers are Ortiz and Daniels, with the free safety/rover slot being occupied by another freshman in Nyiar Domnie (5-8, 165).

The cornerbacks are Wadley and junior Rashon Felder (5-11, 160). The safeties are Powell and sophomore Daniel Cooper (5-10, 150).

After the season opener, the Royal Knights will face Tenafly this weekend.

Marshall has to take some time with his new location.

“We have to be real patient,” Marshall said. “Every game is a learning process. We have to understand that we basically have a team of kids. We even have a young coaching staff. We have to build for the future. It’s all building and learning together.”

Looks like there will be a lot of building this year with Marshall at the helm. – Jim Hague