By Jonathan Murrietta
Iman Marshall is touted as Long Beach Polytechnic High School’s next future NFL star. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Marshall is listed as the No. 1 high school cornerback in the nation.
“It’s a great honor and a great accomplishment being acknowledged in the same breath as Poly legends like Marcedes Lewis and DeSean Jackson, both of whom went to the NFL,” said Marshall, who is finishing his senior year at Poly. “This is a prestigious campus.”
Marshall is heading to the University of Southern California next fall to play football for the Trojans. He is looking to become the 15th player in Poly High School history to follow the Poly Jackrabbit, USC route to the NFL. Though Marshall’s immediate attention is set on bringing back a national championship to his new home at USC, his NFL career could be just a few years away.
The Poly Jackrabbits were already a competitive football team 12 years before the very first NFL game; by the time the Pittsburgh Steelers played their first game in 1933, five high schools were already hiking the pigskin in Long Beach. Poly High School, once known as Long Beach High School, emerged the standout, and since then, has become the nation’s leading high school in sending its athletes to the NFL.
“Long Beach Poly has been blessed with a great football tradition,” Rob Shock, Poly’s athletic director, said. “Being in the heart of central Long Beach, Poly has sent a diverse group of student athletes on to greater success. The culture [in central Long Beach] has emphasized the importance of family and I think that has developed throughout the years and is a part of the reason for Poly football’s achievements.”
In 1934, Poly named its first black football player, star running back Walter Ray McCowen. His younger brother, Landusky McCowen, was the first black quarterback in Long Beach history.
“Poly was like 30 years ahead of ‘Remember the Titans,’ the Disney movie set in the 1970s about integrating high school football,” said Mike Guardabascio, prep sports editor at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and author of “Football in Long Beach.” “I think the strong theme of diversity and inclusiveness has always been a hallmark of Long Beach Poly football.”
Poly football has continually faced the challenge of playing well-funded private school football programs that usually spend quite a bit more money per player. Mater Dei, the Catholic private school located in Santa Ana, California, split championships with Poly in 1996 and 1997, and tied the Jackrabbits in the championship in 1998. In those years, Mater Dei spent a total of $750,000 on its football program, compared to Poly’s $15,000.
“It’s been 25 years since the team didn’t have a future NFL player on the team every season, and they’re riding the yellow school bus to games,” Guardabascio said.
Even though they are often outspent by their opponents, the Jackrabbits have won more California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Championships than any other high school in history, winning 18, and they have produced the most NFL players in high school history.
No matter where they come from, high school football standouts have the difficult task of selecting a college that will propel their NFL dreams forward.
Louisiana State University, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Michigan University all recruited Marshall, but in the end, he chose to stay local to continue his studies at USC, where he plans to study business and marketing while playing for the Trojans.
“Being educated will help you farther along down the line than sports will,” Marshall said. “Your intelligence and your brain are ultimately going to make you who you are.”
Poly’s current principal, Victor Jarels, said getting exceptionally talented athletes like Marshall into college is important, while making sure they stay in school is absolutely critical.
“What Poly gives our students is a solid foundation of what academics really are,” Jarels said. “Then, when you get to college and have to balance athletics and schoolwork, you don’t panic. You go to your classes, compete in sports, and you can survive.”
In Marshall’s world, it’s about surviving in a highly competitive atmosphere, while keeping grounded and making good decisions.
“You have to make your own history and your own story,” the star cornerback said. “You can’t let somebody else’s history or somebody else’s success or downfalls dictate yours.”