- Category: Sports
- Hits: 1525
Start with the last name because that's what first commands attention. It draws more notice than the fact that he's four inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than other inside linebackers at the Washington Redskins' training camp. He's Nico Marley, grandson of Bob, a fact that elicits instant fascination.
The questions are typically the same, regardless of whether they're being asked by teammates or reporters. His head coach also peppered him with questions about his grandfather.
Some teammates want to ask, but don't want to bug him. Nico Marley might never play an NFL game, but being the grandson of a music legend still makes him awe inspiring.
"I would like to, but I don't," starting linebacker Will Compton said on the subject. "It's cool as hell."
Others fire away, though not just about Nico Marley's famous roots.
"When I first saw him, I asked him about it," said linebacker Martrell Spaight, who traveled to Jamaica in the offseason. "I asked about the culture of Jamaica, asked if he does music, too, can he sing? Can he play instruments? That's the first thing that comes to mind thinking about Bob Marley."
Even coach Jay Gruden asked Nico about his heritage, wanting one question answered in particular.
"He doesn't sing, number one," Gruden said. "I was kind of curious."
Enjoying the past
Marley's musical acumen isn't strong and that's OK. He gets his share of music through listening to his grandfather's tunes, as well as by talking about him. Despite his teammates' hesitations, Marley enjoys talking about his lineage. Saturday, for example, he discussed the topic in three separate interviews on a colder, rainy day. He made it clear he was happy to do so, even as a light rain dripped down. For Marley, it's a way to feel closer to someone who died 24 years before he was born.
"Naturally it comes, naturally it comes," Marley said, with a Jamaican accent, of the questions. "It's something I embrace. My grandfather touched so many lives in the world. Being able to share an experience with somebody ... I haven't met my grandfather and they probably hadn't either, but they're curious because he touched their lives and they have their own story to share. That connection with them is awesome."
Marley grew up in Florida. He wasn't musically inclined, choosing instead to follow his father Rohan's path into football. He cannot recall a precise moment when his family ties to a powerful reggae figure -- one who sought to help people and fight oppression through his music -- really hit home.
"Listening to his music, hearing interviews, I knew he touched lives," Marley said. "He touched mine even as a young kid. It was mind-blowing to get that experience from a young age because he really touched me. To take all that in at a young age, that really helped me grow."
He never viewed his last name as a source of pressure. After all, his father once led the Miami Hurricanes in tackles and played alongside Dwayne Johnson and Ray Lewis. Rohan also played one season in the Canadian Football League and had a relationship with singer Lauryn Hill.
"Never a burden," Marley said of his last name. "It's an inspiration. Embrace it."
Teammate Rob Kelley said there was also a fascination with Marley when the pair played together at Tulane. According to Kelley, Marley was eventually overshadowed by Tulane quarterback Nick Montana, who also had a famous father.
"Everyone thought it was so amazing he was Bob Marley's grandson," Kelley said. "But then you had Joe Montana's son playing quarterback so it was weird. When we first played with Nick, the whole story was about Joe Montana sitting in the stands."
Every little thing
There's also the matter of Nico Marley being only 5-foot-8, 200 pounds while playing a position typically occupied by someone in the 6-1, 230 range. Gruden said he liked Marley's tape at Tulane, and saw the same qualities he exhibited on film on the Redskins' playing field; he saw a player making plays.
"And I said if anybody deserves a chance to crack the roster, it's somebody who's that productive," Gruden said. "So we brought him in here and he really hasn't disappointed us, man. He's been running around here, making good plays and he's very smart. We will see what happens when we get to live tackling, but he's a fun guy to watch."
Like his grandfather, Marley provides his own inspiration.
"Everyone knows he's a small guy," Spaight said. "He has a high motor and he has that passion and fire about him. It's always inspiring to see him make plays. I was once in that position where everyone was telling me I'm too small and to see someone smaller than me making plays, it's refreshing to see. I root for him every step of the way."
For Marley, it's mind over matter.
"I'm bigger, that's how I look at it," he said. "I try to get to where they're going faster than they get there. That's what I’m doing.
"I thought everyone was like that. If I see a car and I'm walking down the street, I think I can run through it. If it keeps going, I think I'll stop it. It's my mentality. I’m tall. I never doubt myself, nothing in my mind tells me I'll ever doubt myself."
Perhaps he could write his own "Redemption Song" and stick around long enough to answer more teammates' questions.
"I just want to be like, 'are you fully aware all the time that you're Bob Marley's grandson?'" Compton said.
Yes. And no.
"I'm just Nico," he said. "I do what I do."