Wofford dedicates season to former player who died in April

03/17/2010 12:00 AM

03/14/2015 1:02 PM

SPARTANBURG - The coroner said Eric Marshall died of an enlarged heart.

No, his heart was just too big.

Marshall, 24 years old and two years removed from being a star player for the Wofford basketball team, suffered a heart attack on April 22, 2009, in a pickup game at Greenbrier High School in Evans, Ga., where he was set to become a teacher and coach at his alma mater. He had two young sons with his high school sweetheart.

Wofford has played this season in Marshall's memory. And it has been the best season in the history of the century-old program.

The Terriers won a school-record 26 games, the Southern Conference regular-season championship, the league tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

They are scheduled to play at about 3 p.m. Friday as the No. 13 seed in the East Regional against No. 4 seed Wisconsin in Jacksonville, Fla.

All through this journey - 13 consecutive victories, the second-longest streak in the country this season, and 19 of 20 wins overall - the team has kept Marshall close to its heart.

"We've made history, and he's been an intricate part of that," said Wofford fourth-year junior forward Tim Johnson, who played with Marshall. "It's my belief that he is with us. We don't see him in the crowd, but he's definitely on the front row cheering. To be able to bring him that joy is amazing."

The team gathered Monday afternoon on Morgan Square in Spartanburg for a pep rally attended by an estimated 1,000 fans, including the past three mayors. Before he stepped on to the stage with a smile on his face to introduce the players, Wofford coach Mike Young fought back tears when thinking of the man they called "E-Marsh."

"I remember his hug," Young said. "He had the best ... "

Young stopped in mid-sentence. Sunglasses hid his eyes.

"He would ask that you play your guts out," Young said. "This team has done that. Everything we've done, every practice, every walk-through, every game, we've played our guts out. It's a fitting tribute to a guy who played as hard as anybody we've ever had."

Marshall was a senior, returning from serious knee injuries to both legs, with a freshman class that included Johnson, Corey Godzinski and hotshot Junior Salters from Broome High.

"When we first got here, E-Marsh was the one who really took us under his wings," Salters said. "He just really showed us what it meant to work hard. He brought it hard to practice every day. He was ready to kill someone and then give you the biggest hug off the court."

Marshall was particularly tough on Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound bull in a china shop from Memphis, Tenn.

"I came in as a freshman a little cocky," Johnson said. "He humbled me."

Salters put it a different way.

"E-Marsh," he said, "used to bust Tim Johnson's head every day in practice."

Marshall scored 863 career points, an average of 10.4 per game.

"(Marshall's death) was definitely my motivation during the summer in training and every time I walked out on the court," Johnson said. "If I ever wanted to quit for a split-second, I thought about E-Marsh and how hard he went."

Wofford has focused this season on defense, selfishness and toughness. Those traits defined Marshall.

"I think he is the epitome of Wofford basketball," Godzinski said. "He just came out every day, worked hard and wanted to win. It was all about the team. That's what we - especially Junior and me - have tried to turn this team into."

They have also been able to relay Marshall's message to live each day, enjoy each victory, to the fullest.

"We all know because of E-Marsh," Salters said, "that we can't take this game or this life for granted."

"I have been honored to play in his memory," Johnson said. "He has given me a little more juice out there. I just hate that I had to learn that lesson from his passing."

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