PULLMAN — From Spokane walk-on to power-conference standout — Armani Marsh’s success story is a result of internal motivation.
Now entering the final chapter of his college career, Marsh is an established Pac-12 starter and a captain for Washington State’s secondary at the nickel position.
But he’s just as driven as he was five years ago, when the under-recruited Gonzaga Prep grad agreed to join WSU — knowing he’d have to work his way out of scout-team obscurity to receive a scholarship offer and playing time.
“I always say this: He stretches with a more serious purpose than anybody on the team,” Cougars coach Jake Dickert said of Marsh last week. “That’s how he works out. That’s how he treats academics. That’s how he attacks every day.”
Through spirited initiative, Marsh has become an ever-reliable piece of the Cougars’ secondary. He’s been “Steady Eddie” throughout spring ball, Dickert said, and has solidified himself as one of WSU’s best all-around players.
“With Armani, you just know exactly what you’re going to get day in and day out,” Dickert said. “There’s a consistency to how he attacks each day with a purpose and an intent.”
The first-year coach figures that stems from Marsh’s past and the persistence it required.
“He got here as a walk-on, and I don’t know if anyone really gave him a chance,” said Dickert, who served as Marsh’s defensive coordinator for two seasons. “He came in and proved himself with heart and with passion.
“We know what Armani’s going to give us. Point blank. Period. So sometimes with those guys, you kinda forget about them in the background a little bit. But he’s going to be a major contributor to everything we’re doing.”
Marsh was named a team captain last season and played a key role in the Cougars’ defensive resurgence, breaking out as a dependable and versatile defensive back in his fifth year at WSU and second year as a regular starter.
He finished third on the team with 70 tackles and had a team-best three interceptions, including two in WSU’s long-awaited Apple Cup win in Seattle. Marsh collected a bobbled pass for an interception and returned it 28 yards for a score in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“He’s a technician,” said Dave McKenna, the longtime coach at G-Prep. “Right spot, right time. He just has that knack, that ‘it’ factor. It’s not coincidental. Certain guys have it, and he’s one of them. If the opportunity is there, he makes it happen.”
The nickel position — an extra cornerback who lines up near the defensive box — requires players to be physical in the ground game, nimble on passing downs and aware enough to identify formations and tendencies before the snap.
“You gotta make tackles at the line on big, strong running backs,” Marsh said during an interview after the season. “You gotta be able to shed blocks on tight ends and deal with linemen coming at you. As an outside cornerback, you have the sideline to help you. At nickel, (receivers) can go inside or outside. There’s more space to cover.
“I help people line up,” he continued, breaking down his responsibilities. “Just being able to communicate and get everyone on the same page … doing my job consistently, I think that allows (my teammates) to trust me, and knowing where everyone is supposed to be allows me to play faster.”
Marsh, 5 feet 10 and a sturdy 186 pounds, fit the mold of an ideal nickel last year, performing effectively in each facet. He popped running backs and made a number of acrobatic plays in the secondary. Marsh was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
The Cougars were undoubtedly thrilled when Marsh announced in December that he’d be taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility — provided by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — and returning to WSU for a sixth season.
He’s not ready to turn the page yet. Marsh has individual goals still to meet and added winning a Pac-12 championship is his No. 1 reason for accepting the bonus season, which he called a “blessing in disguise.”
“I fully believe we have the staff and players to do that,” he said. “It was really a no-brainer for me, for my future and what I want to accomplish.”
Marsh wants to earn an All-Pac-12 first-team nod, lead the conference in interceptions and generate NFL interest.
“It’s a great feeling to see the work I’ve put in over the years come to light, but I’m the type of person who thinks I could always play better,” Marsh said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can this offseason to play at a higher level. I’m not comfortable with where I am. I want to do so much more.”