CAMBRIDGE — Andover High had gone for two points after its first touchdown, with sophomore quarterback E.J. Perry IV handing off to senior back Kevin Chen for the conversion.
But after seizing a 14-0 lead against host Cambridge Rindge & Latin on a 48-yard strike from Perry to Dan Gemmel in the second quarter, the Golden Warriors went to another option for the extra points.
A very sizable option.
Instead of handing the ball off to Chen, Andover coach E.J. Perry called a right corner out-route pattern for Alex Marshall, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior tight end.
His son, E.J., rolled to his right and threw the ball up for Marshall, who, with his incredibly soft hands and athleticism, caught the ball cleanly and stayed inbounds for the conversion and a 16-0 cushion en route to a 48-0 victory.
“I’m reading the cornerback,” said the quarterback. “[Marshall] rolled up, beat his man, went up and grabbed the ball.”
That play has become a favorite for Perry and Marshall, who have developed great chemistry in their second season together on varsity.
“Any time I throw the ball, I know he’s going to at least have a shot to go up for the ball,” said Perry, who completed 15 of his 27 passing attempts for 310 yards and three touchdowns in the opener. “It makes my job a lot easier. He can make plays happen with his size and versatility.”
With his length and reach, Marshall said, “I’m above everyone. “[Perry IV] loves it because I’m already just right there.”
With his size, Marshall has already earned the nickname Baby Gronk, in comparison with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“There are a lot of 6-foot-7 guys,” said the elder Perry. “But [Marshall] has tremendously soft hands. He’s physical and creates problems for everybody. Marshall is so great, so talented, and so hard-working. Every time he’s on the field you have to respect his ability.”
Although he finished the opener with just one reception, he was still a big factor in the victory.
“He definitely had a huge impact whether it shows on the stat sheet or not,” said senior lineman Chris Tully . “He was double- and triple-teamed, which opened up everything else.”
And his blocking opened up huge holes for Chen (115 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and allowed Gemmell (six catches, 125 yards, two TDs), a sophomore wide receiver, to get open looks throughout the game.
‘I’m just trying to go out there every game and use my height and size to my advantage. Not many kids out here are blessed with that.’
“I came out and I got double-teamed right away,” said Marshall, who also starts at defensive end. “Other [players] stepped up and got the job done.”
Chen, who scored on a 27-yard run that was set up by a key block by Marshall, credited his teammate for making “some great blocks for me. He opened up a very big hole for me to score that touchdown.”
Marshall always has had aspirations to become a Division 1 athlete at the collegiate level, but originally it was not for football.
After his freshman year, Marshall committed to play lacrosse at the University of North Carolina, as a defender.
But after talking to a pair of knowledgeable sources — his head coach’s two brothers, John Perry , the first-year tight ends coach for the Houston Texans, and James Perry , the offensive coordinator at Princeton — he realized that he had an even brighter future in football.
“[Perry’s] brothers always told me, if you want you can be an NFL tight end,” Marshall said. “It never really sunk in until college coaches started getting interested in me.”
Entering his junior season, Marshall knew that if he wanted to fulfill his dream of playing major college football, he would have to improve in every aspect.
This summer he attended football camps at Boston College, Penn State, and Notre Dame, where he primarily focused on playing on the line and improving his blocking.
“The biggest thing was the hands in the dirt,” Marshall said of improving his overall play as a tight end. “That’s what you’re going to have to do at the next level. You’re going to need to have your hand in the dirt and pushing kids off the ball.”
He has already attracted interest from several Division 1 programs.
“I’m just trying to go out there every game and use my height and size to my advantage,” Marshall said. “Not many kids out here are blessed with that.”
“This is definitely going to be a breakout year for him,” said Perry, his coach. “He’s a game changer and a difference maker.”
As Craig goes, so goes Marblehead
The opener was a night to remember for Marblehead High senior Spencer Craig.
Playing against conference rival Danvers, Craig made his debut as the starting quarterback and did not disappoint. With senior running back Brooks Tyrrell out for most of the game with cramps, sixth-year Marblehead coach Jim Rudloff looked to his quarterback to take command.
“Spencer was more than ready,” Rudloff said. “He’s an extremely physical player [and] an extremely enthusiastic player.”
On offense, the 6-2, 210-pound Craig threw three touchdown passes, all to senior tight end Will Millett .
“He did a really nice job [of] throwing the ball and finding the open receiver,” Rudloff said. “The thing with Spencer is that he has always been a sound decision-maker.”
Defensively, Craig racked up 12 tackles, one sack, and had a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown that helped Marblehead beat Danvers 25-12.
“He’s playing like a veteran,” Rudloff said. “It’s very difficult to be a quarterback and be a linebacker.”
In next week’s game against conference opponent Lynn Classical, Rudloff said he hopes the team will feed off of Craig’s play.
“We just need him to improve every week,” he said. “If he gets better every week the team gets better every week.”Isaac Chipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.