BSJ Oral History: How Cassius Marsh and his ‘controlled insanity’ reached the NFL

(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

He is, without a doubt, the most interesting new face in the Patriots’ locker room.

Cassius Marsh was acquired in a deal with the Seahawks just before the start of the 2017 season, and he’s quickly become one of the more distinguishable players of the Bill Belichick Era. Whether it’s the tattoos, his love of “Magic: The Gathering,” the fact he has some of the smallest shoulder pads for any front seven defensive player in the league, or his exceptionally high motor, the 25-year-old Marsh — named in honor of Cassius Clay, the boxer who became Muhammad Ali — has made his mark on the 2017 Patriots.

What follows is an oral history of Marsh’s journey from California to Foxborough; from the “controlled insanity” that came with getting kicked out of multiple college games to becoming a young man whose college position coach said he ultimately matured more than any player he’s seen over the course of his coaching career.

If you want to really get to know Marsh, you have to look beyond the ink, all the way back to his high school days in California. The son of a former NFL wide receiver, he took to the game at an early age for a few reasons, including the fact that he was a lot bigger than most kids his age. His defensive line coach at Oaks Christian School in Westland Village, Calif., was Mark Shihabi, who recalls Marsh as a big kid who was already an immense talent, even as a freshman whose teammates included Joe Montana’s son Nick, actor Will Smith’s son Trey and Wayne Gretzky’s son Trevor.

Shihabi: “He was just so much better than anyone around him. Even at an early age, we tried to simulate what he was going to face at the next level. But his talent was just so far superior to everyone else, Cassius, who was about 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, would go out to practice and just wreak havoc. We had to pull him off the field so the offense could run some plays. And he would get frustrated — he just wanted to play.”

“When he got on the field, he had a great work ethic, but he wasn’t a weight room rat at the start. He worked hard on the field. But when his senior year hit, he said, ‘OK, it’s time.’ And he really took it to the next level. That’s when it clicked for him. He started working out and his attitude started changing. He just turned it all around and became really good at such a young age.”

He channeled some of those competitive juices into playing the card game "Magic: The Gathering." A self-described "nerd" when it came to the game, he picked it up at age 11 and has been all in ever since. On the field, he earned first-team All-State underclass honors as a junior in 2008 and was an all-CIF pick after finishing with 55 tackles, 16 sacks and two forced fumbles. He recorded 83 tackles and 23 sacks as a senior. Small wonder he was in serious demand as a recruit. Marsh’s high school tape made the rounds, and he had several big schools interested. UCLA recruiting coordinator Angus McLure was keeping an eye on him, but didn’t think the Bruins had a shot.