ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The words are a constant reminder. In some ways, they’re also an act of defiance.
The Jets’ Jalin Marshall refuses to be what you expect. Instead, the rookie receiver/return man is dead set on shattering the limits of everyone else’s expectations.
“Sleep on me, that’s my motivation. #blessed”
The words, which are pinned to Marshall’s official Twitter page, are a glimpse into who he is at his core. And they’re a message to all of the non-believers who have crossed his path.
“All my life, I’ve gone through everyone doubting me, not thinking I’m going to make it, thinking I’m not ready or capable enough,” Marshall told Newsday after a recent practice. “And that’s one thing that has always carried me through: People that sleep on me, that’s my motivation. Because if you don’t think I’m going to make it, I’m going to make sure I do everything in my power to get where I need to be.”
When the former Ohio State Buckeye chose to forgo his two remaining years of eligibility — only to go undrafted this past spring — people had plenty to say then, too.
“I left school early. Went undrafted. That was the end of Jalin Marshall,” said the 21-year-old, who declared early along with teammates Darron Lee, the Jets’ first-round pick, and Eli Apple, the Giants’ first-rounder.
“That’s what everybody — reporters, the fans — everybody outside of my inner circle [thought]: ‘Jalin Marshall’s over with.’ So that’s one thing that kind of went into that tweet. Just letting everybody know that, no matter what you say or what you think, I’ll do everything in my power to take care of my business,” said the former five-star high school quarterback, who finished the 2015 season at Ohio State with 36 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns.
His athleticism and quickness turned heads in training camp. But the nuances of the game — ball security, precise route-running and catching passes with his hands rather than his body — still need to be mastered.
He’s a work in progress. But he’s also a potential game-changer.
Marshall was one of the few bright spots in the Jets’ 23-22 loss to Cincinnati in Week 1. His 65-yard kickoff return in the second quarter provided excellent field position at the Bengals’ 39 and helped set up a 15-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker that put the Jets ahead 13-10.
Three days before the game, special teams coordinator Brant Boyer explained why the coaching staff felt comfortable making the 5-10, 200-pound Marshall the Jets’ new return man.
“He showed enough that he’s the guy,’’ Boyer said. “He’s done a nice job since he’s been here on offense and on special teams. He’s bought in, too, and he’s done a fantastic job learning the tracks, and running stuff how we want him to run it. He’s got run skill and short-area quicks. He’s done a really nice job. I’ve been happy with Jalin.”
Though the Jets didn’t draft Marshall, they had their eyes on him the entire time. He said they called him during the third or fourth round to say: “If we don’t draft you, we want you to be here.”
His status as an undrafted free agent did little to shake his confidence, though. “When I came in, I felt like, ‘I’m a first-round draft pick,’ ” he said. “Because if you settle for what they want you to be, then that’s what you will be.”
Marshall still has plenty to prove to himself and to his coaches. But he hasn’t forgotten the naysayers who questioned his decision to leave school early and wondered if he’d ever be heard from again after going undrafted.
“If I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be here,” said the receiver, whose daughter, Aliyiah, was born last Nov. 4. “One thing about me: I make my own story, so I continue to prove to other people that I’m supposed to be here every day.”