Nov. 25, 2002
NEW ORLEANS, La. - It is not difficult to picture. A seventh-grade boy scrambling around a football field, gathering balls kicked by his big brother, dreaming of being big himself someday, imagining himself in his brother's position, kicking long field goals, winning football games. Who knows? Maybe he could even do the same thing in college, like his brother.
Easy to picture, but how often do the dreams come true? And more?
Tulane's Seth Marler followed in the footsteps of his older brother in high school. Despite trailing David by five years, attending a different high school, and being a star soccer player, Seth became a kicker for Parkview High School. Now, as his collegiate career comes to a close, the younger brother has far surpassed the older brother's kicking exploits.
Marler has earned the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top collegiate placekicker; he owns Tulane and Conference USA records for scoring, field goals and extra-point attempts; he is making a serious run at the NCAA record for field-goal accuracy from 40 yards and deeper; and if things continue as they are, he will have the opportunity to show-off his booming right leg on Sundays in the NFL.
In the process, the big brother who Seth admired now watches his younger brother with pride.
"My older brother, David, had a great high school career, won a bunch of games for Brookwood High, and ended up going to Appalachian State and kicking," Seth said. "Every now and then, he would have me shag balls for him. I was in seventh or eighth grade and you always look up to your older brother in the spotlight in high school athletics. I used to tag-along with him and he taught me techniques and showed me a few pointers. He was the biggest influence on my kicking career. As soon as I walk off the field, I check my cell phone to see if he called. He is probably my biggest fan."
"When I was a freshman in college, Seth called me and said he was going to try out for his high school team as a placekicker," David remembers. "I knew he would be better than I was. He is the athlete of the family. I knew he would not stop until he reached the level of a champion."
Despite his success, the younger Marler continues with the same drive and determination. He must get better. He accepted Tulane's punting duties for his senior season; he tackled his coach's challenge to improve on his kickoffs. But, more than anything, Marler has been part of a group which has led the Green Wave to success as a team.
"Coming into this season, I was more concerned about our team than I was anything else," Marler said. "I know a lot of people say that, but whole-heartedly the biggest thing I wanted to do was come in and win a bowl game."
Entering the final week of the season, Tulane owns a 6-5 record and could qualify for its first bowl game since 1998. Last year, while Marler was winning the Groza Award, the team was struggling to a 3-9 record.
"Winning has been so much more rewarding for me," Marler said. "As long as we keep winning, it's great to see people going out and making plays and having fun. We were on the plane trip [returning from Houston] and Adrian Mitchell tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey man, this is the first time we've had this feeling in a long time,' traveling home with a win. Little things like that are making this season fun. This year has been a lot more meaningful to me."
Tulane's success has been due to many factors, most noticeably a vastly improved defense. However, head coach Chris Scelfo sees special teams as the team's biggest strength. Along with the return abilities of Lynaris Elpheage and Jeff Sanchez, the three-pronged attack of Marler - dead-eye field goals, well-placed punts, and booming kickoffs - has been key.
"Seth has meant a lot to this football team since he has been here; he is a great contributor on and off the field," Scelfo said. "He had an amazing year last year, but he still worked very hard over the summer and, with his overall game, he has been far more important for our success this season. He is a true representative of Tulane football."
While he earned the recognition last year for his accuracy on field goals and extra points, he is earning respect from his teammates and coaches for his all-around game this year. He has surprised even himself with his success as a punter, something he had never done before, not even in high school. To top it off, he was following in the footsteps of his good friend and former holder Casey Roussel, who graduated last year with the Tulane record for punting average (43.19).
"I kind of had the mind-set that if I punted over a 38-yard average, then I would be doing a good job," Marler said. "Now I am at 42 or 43 [42.5]. It really blows my mind, but I have really worked hard at it. That is the most satisfying thing about it."
The senior's kickoffs have often been awesome this year, soaring over the heads of return men like a Barry Bonds home run over the head of an outfielder.
"I knew the biggest thing I needed to improve from last year was my kickoffs, so I really worked on my leg strength all summer," Marler said. "Coach Scelfo said that was the biggest thing, if they have to start from the 20 every time, that's a big advantage for us."
By working this summer with Mackie Shilstone, the successful strength and fitness guru who also tutored NFL First Round Draft pick Patrick Ramsey, Marler added nearly 10 pounds of muscle, most directed to improve his leg power. And the results of his summer efforts have been impressive. Of Marler's 58 kickoffs, 44 have gone into the end zone, many soaring through the end zone. Opponents have returned just 24 kickoffs against the Green Wave. By allowing just 2.4 returns per game, Tulane easily leads Conference USA. The next best is the 3.0 returns per game allowed by Houston.
"I was hitting 65-70 yard field goals and kicking off five yards out of the end zone before the season," Marler continued. "But during the season your leg strength is gradually going to diminish. I really put a lot of work into that this summer. I think the coaches have given me the freedom, saying they know I have the leg to do it, so just go out there and kill it."
However, while his punting and kickoffs impressed, many worried about the effect on his field goals. After connecting on 15-of-16 three-pointers and 39-of-40 extra points as a junior, Marler opened the 2002 season by successfully converting seven of his first eight attempts. However, he missed six times in a three-game midseason stretch, although one would have been a school-record 54-yarder.
"If you look at those couple of games, we had a few blocks, we had a few miscues, but I never doubted myself," Marler said. "Even when I was in a slump, I was still hitting the ball well. But after the ULM game, I told Coach Scelfo, I'm rededicating myself, this is a while new season starting right now, and ever since then, everything's been fine."
In the next four games, Marler was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals, with four of those coming from 40 yards or further.
"You know you're not going to make every field goal," Marler added. "You can't get down on yourself about that; you can't hang your head over missing. I knew this team didn't lose confidence in me; I knew Coach Scelfo hadn't lost confidence in me. It was just one of those things that happens. You have to push through it. Coach Scelfo told me that everyone gets down, but it is the great players that rise back up. I really, really put a lot of effort into rising back up and coming back from that. I think I have."
Despite his success and hopes for a professional career, Marler always falls back on his main goal: team success. With various professional scouts and agents trying to gain an advantage with Marler through his mom and dad, the 6-0, 195-pounder simply told his parents, "We're trying to go to a bowl game, you tell the scouts they can talk to me after the season."
"That may make some people mad, but we're trying to go to a bowl and this is the first opportunity we have had in four years to have a great season and go to postseason," he said. "I don't want anything to affect that."
However, on an individual level, the laid-back Georgia native appreciates every opportunity.
"I want to finish out my career as best I can," he said. "I go out there and play my hardest, kick every single kick like I might not get another opportunity, because I might not.
"My goal since I played high school football was to make it to the NFL and hopefully after this season, I just want to get a shot, a chance, to see how I stack up. I want to get our team a bowl game, get a win in the bowl, help the program out as much as I can, and hopefully that will propel me to the next level."
"I think if he steps into an NFL uniform for an NFL team, it would be a perfect compliment to his ability and his character as a person," older brother David said. "You won't find a better kid or a better mentor. In an NFL uniform, he would serve the role very well."
While football may very well prove to be a successful career for Marler, he is by no means a 'dumb jock.' A double major in management and marketing, Marler is on track to graduate this May - completing his degree program in just four years. While he exhibits plenty of passion for his sport, his eyes also light up when talking about a favorite class.
"I am in an environmental management class right now taught by Robert Moreau and it is definitely my favorite class ever taken, in any school," Marler said. "We learn how society can use natural resources in a way that they will still be available in the future. It is a really interesting class, you see how business affects the environment. That subject really interests me and I am actually thinking about looking into that after school."
Seth Marler the seventh-grader has aged nine years; he has gone from being a boy dreaming of the future and looking up to role models, to being a young man truly worthy of being a role model, on and off the football field.