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August 3, 2010There's a word that repeatedly comes up when Robert Marve talks about this pivotal juncture of his football career: "Humbled."
The Boilermakers' new starting quarterback has taken a tumultuous, and much scrutinized, path to this point, a journey he says has changed him for the better.
"When I say I'm humbled, I mean that I'm more focused and understand where I am," Marve said. "It's kind of hard to do that when you come out of high school. You can feel like you have everything figured out when you don't. It just means I understand where I am and what I have to do to get to where I want to go."
Once seemingly destined for instant collegiate greatness after winning a state championship at Plant High School in Tampa and being named Mr. Football in talent-rich Florida, the blue-chip quarterback recruit committed to Alabama - this past year's national champion, by the way - but signed with Miami after the Crimson Tide changed coaches.
The South Florida spotlight shined brightly on Marve, a high school football icon in his native state, but mostly for the wrong reasons.
After injuries suffered in a car accident forced him to redshirt in 2007, Marve was the Hurricanes' starter as a redshirt freshman a year later. But he was suspended for the team's first and final games by Coach Randy Shannon and a very acrimonious, very public parting of ways followed.
After considering a set of options limited by restrictions put in place by Miami, Marve landed at Purdue, which recruited him out of high school and could offer a fast track to the field, given its uncertain depth chart behind center.
But just as he announced he'd be starting over in West Lafayette, Marve blew out his knee during a routine workout, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during a standard drop-back drill he'd performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.
Now that his knee, and reputation, have been mended by time, Marve is eager for two things: 1) some peace and quiet and 2) to make good on his vast potential before it's too late.
By transferring after he'd already redshirted, Marve had to forsake a year of eligibility, meaning the junior's college career is already half over after he's played in a mere 11 games.
"I can't wait to just have some fun and play football," Marve said. "All that stuff off the field is finally over with and now I can just have fun out on the field. It's easy to play when you're having fun and feel comfortable in the system."
There are few who know Marve and his story better than offensive coordinator Gary Nord, the Boilermakers' quarterbacks coach. Not only does Nord coach Marve for the Boilermakers, but he's familiar with him from his days coaching at Florida Atlantic.
"He's ready to play," Nord said. "He appreciates his opportunity a lot more to play football at this level after everything that's happened, with the transfer and the injury. He's very eager right now and very hungry.
"Down at Miami, they started him as a freshman and he wasn't ready for all that. Then when the team didn't have success, it was (viewed as) his fault. He wasn't physically ready to make it happen or mentally ready to take the criticism. He got lost there a little bit. Confidence is such an important part of success, and I think he's got his confidence back."
And by all accounts Marve has the confidence of both his teammates and coaches.
Danny Hope and his staff have widely lauded Marve for his work ethic in the weight room and classroom; for his willingness to lead; and for how well he's fit in among his teammates, a self-proclaimed city kid adjusting to, as he jokes, "a whole different world" in Indiana.
Marve took winning and losing very seriously in 2009, even though he couldn't even practice, let alone play, and has sometimes gone out of his way to deflect attention away from himself.
Wide receiver Keith Smith, one of the team's strongest personalities, said Marve was welcomed unconditionally last summer.
"We all make our mistakes," Smith said. "You make them, live with it and move on. When he came here, he had a clean slate."
Offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, the man charged with the task this season of protecting Marve's blind side, sensed the QB's eagerness to fit in last fall.
"The first semester," Kelly said, "I think he probably did try to let people know, 'You know, what happened at Miami stayed at Miami and I'm a different guy in a different situation now.' Now, it all seems very natural with him. You know he really cares about his teammates and enjoys spending time around them. He definitely fits in."
That's the other word that keeps coming up: "Fit."
The athletic, physical quarterback with the mighty arm is thought to fit ideally into the Boilermakers' spread offense, part of the reason Marve seems so content after enduring so much discontent.
"I don't feel like I've done what I've wanted to do in college football yet," he said. "When I played (at Miami), I was a freshman and I went through my freshman pains and mistakes. I've very excited about my position. I don't feel like I've let anyone down or anything. I feel like I'm in the right system in the right place at the right time."
Note: This story first appeared in Gold & Black Illustrated's 2010 Purdue Football Preview Issue. To order your copy, click here.
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