IOWA CITY – Growing up on a farm, he pitched calf condos, pitchforking wet, heavy, stinky manure and cornstalks.
He fished, hunted and partied in high school. Mom didn’t gloss over the partying, using the terms “roadhouse,” “outlaw” and “a lot of crazy stuff.”
He shared a dorm room, a puny air conditioner and a frying pan with five football players for a summer at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City. Somewhere among the calf poop, parties and community college, Marshal Yanda found his way to a dream.
Dream? Bit of an overstatement, maybe? Aren’t we going a little overboard here?
Well, Ruth Yanda skipped the Yankee Dirt Track Classic at the Farley Speedway on Sept. 15, 1984, and gave birth to Marshal. The first thing on his head was the ubiquitous blue cap that goes on all baby boys’ heads. Then he weighed in at 9 pounds, 9 ounces. Off went the blue cap and on went a little Hawkeyes hat.
“They said he’s going to play for Hayden someday,” Ruth said.
Ruth and John Yanda raised Marshal on a dairy farm northwest of Anamosa. A little more than 40 minutes from Iowa City, the Hawkeyes rule here. Marshal’s first Halloween costume was an Iowa football uniform, his sister Katie’s an Iowa cheerleader outfit.
So dream isn’t an understatement. It just stayed a dream a little longer for Yanda. Coming out of Anamosa High School, Marshal’s athletics resume was fine. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman earned first-team all-district as a junior and senior and was a
three-year letterwinner playing line on both sides of the ball. He showed the good feet Division I-A linemen need to show with two letters in basketball.
He got a call from Iowa State. Got letters from Iowa. The athletics were OK, the academics another story. He didn’t have the grades or the ACT score to go D-I, so he had to look into juco.
“I started my senior year (at Anamosa) to get better grades, but it was already too late,” Marshal said. “I ruined it my first three years. I was young and didn’t have in my mind-set that I needed good grades to get where I wanted to be.”
Now don’t take this as his being rowdy, though there was some partying, grounding and lecturing.
Marshal was raised on a farm and has a huge love for fishing and hunting. He’s a gear guy who knows his way to Cabelas in Owatonna, Minn., and Prairie du Chien, Wis. He has one of those underwater cameras for ice fishing. He just finished building a duck
blind for his boat, which he’s had since he was 16.
“He brings an atmosphere that makes everything fun,” fellow Iowa offensive lineman Mike Elgin said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. He makes everything fun.
“I think he’s building a duck blind or something like that on his boat. That’s all he talked about until football started. Now he won’t shut up about football.”
When Yanda was 14, he raised chickens so he could save enough money to race go-karts at Delaware, something the family did every Saturday night for four years.
As a kid, he went from the wide-open spaces and chasing cats to sitting in a desk at school. That sitting wasn’t easy when the walleyes were biting, the pheasants were flying and the deer were rutting.
“I wanted him to have fun and I wanted him to do something when he was young that he could do when he was older,” Ruth said, “so he wouldn’t sit in those damn bars and drink beer and do all that other idiot stuff that they all do.”
The world was so much bigger than the desk he sat in at school. He was lectured and grounded. But Ruth didn’t want to break his spirit.
“I’m one of those parents, I let them fall,” said Ruth, who has a coaching certificate and coached Marshal and his sister, Katie, in basketball. “I tell and tell them what’s going to happen, then they fall. They might get hurt, but that’s how they learn.”
Marshal ended up at NIACC in the fall of 2003. The first day of practice, he sprawled out on the wet grass with 140 players and heard his coach say 1 percent of them will make it to Division I-A football.
“I just wanted to keep my head down and work hard,” he said. “Also, I had to change my grades. I started going to class every day, doing my homework and actually doing the other end of football, which is also very important.
“I figured I’d go to NIACC and give it one last shot and whatever happens, happens. I’ll play two years and if I don’t go anywhere, well, I got two more years of football.”
Yanda decided to stay in Mason City after his freshman season. NIACC’s summer conditioning program attracted a grand total of six players. They lived in one dorm. Ruth sent up a frying pan. They lived on eggs and frozen chicken teriyaki dishes.
The air conditioner Marshal installed? Once the coaches found out, they made him take it out.
He also had his eye on the edge of town. He took 17 hours of classes that summer.
“He needed to get his associate degree,” Iowa offensive line coach Reese Morgan said. “He did it in a year and a half. He had a plan. He stayed there during the summer and went to summer school. When everyone else was going home seeing their buddies and waterskiing, he was there working out.
“He did it his way.”
Junior college football in Mason City is where pitching calf condos comes in handy. Not for the skill, obviously, but for the gumption to see a job through. No matter how onerous and stinky.
“The core values that he has coming into the program, he had before he got here,” Morgan said. “He understands what it is to put in a good day’s work. He knew what toughness was about.
“He wasn’t getting a pity party when he came home. His mom and dad weren’t sitting there saying everything’s going to be OK. Their expectations were pretty damn high for him at home.”
“I wasn’t going to have kids who didn’t know how to work,” Ruth said.
And they weren’t afraid to tweak.
During a shopping trip to Goodwill, Ruth picked up a Kirkwood Community College sweatshirt for Marshal. It was part necessity and part motivation.
“We called him `Mr. Kirkwood’ for a long time,” she said.
Two games into his freshman season at NIACC, Iowa State called and offered a full ride. That was great, but that wasn’t the dream.
He hand delivered tapes to Iowa City. At first, Iowa said, we’re full on linemen, we’ll call if someone doesn’t come. On a Friday in November 2004, he had a trip scheduled to Ames. His dream was Iowa, but his goal was Division I-A and that was there for him
at Iowa State.
He called Morgan one last time Thursday night.
“Coach Morgan said, `Whoa, Marshal, Kirk’s got to look at your tape,’” Ruth said.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz saw the tape. The Ames trip never happened.
“We already recruited five linemen,” Morgan said. “I talked to coach (Ferentz), showed him the tape (Yanda’s sophomore year at NIACC) and he said, `Hey, he’s kind of what we’re looking for.’ When coach looked at the tape, he
wasn’t a tough sell.”
Yanda enrolled at Iowa in January 2005 and made it to spring practice. As a junior last fall, he started all 12 games, the first three at left guard before finding a home at right tackle.
Going into this year, The Sporting News picked him a second-team all-Big Ten tackle and named him the 18th best tackle in the nation.
“When we recruited him, our thought process was, `We’ll get him on campus, get him in here in the spring to learn the position, red-shirt him and we’ll have a guy for two years,’” Morgan said. “But when he showed up, he brought his tempo, his physicalness, his toughness. He brought that extra level to us. We just needed that badly.”
Ruth and Katie have been an incredible support system during Marshal’s two years in Iowa City.
Ruth, 47, who works third shift at ADM, lives on Olive Court, pretty much a punt from Kinnick Stadium. Katie is a senior at Iowa. She’s been like a “second mom” to Marshal, Ruth said.
“She has helped him tremendously,” Ruth said. “Feeding him, housing him last summer, scheduling classes, talking to his adviser. Katie has been there for him his entire life.”
Katie, 23, and Marshal, 21, will graduate together this spring. Mom, of course, is off-the-charts proud. She calls the trio a “triangle.”
Before two-a-days this month, they posed for a picture.
“I told them, `These are the people we care about and take care of,’ ” Ruth said. “I told Marshal I’m so proud you made the decision to become the man you are today.
“I’ve gone hunting and fishing with him a lot. We sit and talk. He said once, `Thanks mom. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.’
“I said, `No Marshall.’ I’ve had so many wake-up calls with him. I’d lecture and scream and holler. I said, `Marshal, I can do all that, but if you wouldn’t have made the decision to become the person you are and to take school seriously and to go to NIACC, it wouldn’t have made a difference.’
“`You ultimately had to make the decision. You kept up with your dreams.” ‘
They talk every day. They still fish and hunt when they can.
Last December, they went for an ice fishing trip on Lake Macbride. The ice was iffy. Marshal took the first few steps.
“I said, `If you fall in, I figure I’m going to go in after you, because I’m not going to be able to pull you out,’ ” Ruth said.
You just know Marshal was in good hands.