- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2017

Oftentimes, the offspring of celebrated icons are eager to distance themselves from their famous relatives and forge their own path. Nico Marley has the opportunity to make his own name for himself, should the undersized linebacker stick with the Redskins.

But Bob Marley’s grandson embraces his family history. If he can make it in the NFL, he hopes it draws attention to his grandfather’s role in making reggae a global phenomenon.

“It’s a blessing, it’s a blessing,” Marley said. “Because, you know, how he helped so many people in this world. You know, the least I can do is just represent his name in a positive light and give back the positive vibrations.”

There are industries in which the Marley name would likely help Nico get started, but football isn’t one of them. Marley’s storied DNA determined his 5-foot-8 stature, one reason he has been overlooked by both college and professional teams and a factor more important to coaches than ancestry.

“I don’t put anything into [his last name], I just watched him at the rookie minicamp,” coach Jay Gruden said.

The Redskins brought Marley in as one of nearly 40 tryout players at rookie minicamp, and Marley stood out. Gruden noticed “this little linebacker” who had two interceptions, recovered a fumble and made about three tackles for loss. It was enough for the Redskins to sign him.

“I said, well, he deserves an opportunity, so we gave him an opportunity,” Gruden said. “As far as his name is concerned, he’s very proud of his name and all that stuff, but I’m just worried about Nico Marley as a football player, teaching him linebacker and see how we can make him fit in our scheme if we can.”

Marley’s size raises the question of whether he could be better-suited for strong safety rather than linebacker, but he has never been one to let his body-type make decisions for him.

At 200 pounds, Marley also did defensive back drills at Tulane’s Pro Day, to which the Redskins sent a representative. But Marley played linebacker all four years at Tulane, and it’s the position where he feels most comfortable.

He finished his career with the Green Wave with 319 total tackles, including a school record 50.5 for loss, and earned first-team All-AAC honors as a junior and a senior. Because of his size, he relies on his instincts and his willingness to be coached.

“Seeing where the ball goes, listening to coaches’ tips, what coach says, you know,” Marley said. “Watching film, game plan, just all throughout practice, what the coaches are telling me, I do.”

Marley’s father, Rohan Marley, was another undersized linebacker and had a successful playing career alongside Warren Sapp, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Ray Lewis at the University of Miami before going pro in the Canadian Football League.

Tulane was the only Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer him a scholarship to play in college, but Marley immediately proved that he could contribute. He started all but one game his freshman year, then every game as a sophomore, junior and senior.

Still, he was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine or any of the big showcase games. That has been a pattern with Marley, who has outperformed expectations at every level of football, only to be overlooked by the next level up.

Marley is used to this, so much so that he didn’t quite believe it when the Redskins called to tell him they wanted to sign him.

“I kind of wanted to make sure it wasn’t a dream.” Marley said. “I was like ‘Yeah? You sure?’ And then I was just excited. I called my father right away, I called my mom, I was like, ‘We’re going to be Redskins.’”

Even among his millennial teammates, Marley said most still know of his grandfather, who died in 1981 — or at least are interested in listening and learning.

“It’s lovely to see that even after so many years, 36 years, he still holds such a heavy weight even in America,” Marley said.

Marley cherishes the fact that he can call himself Bob Marley’s grandson. After turning his tryout into a roster spot, Marley can now call himself a professional football player, too.

How long will it last? The answer will depend on whether or not the little linebacker can keep surprising people.

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