Tulane’s Lawrence Graham and Marvin Moody know they have a huge legacy to uphold at inside linebacker following in the footsteps of Nico Marley and Rae Juan Marbley.
They also know they can leave giant imprints of their own, a notion supported by everyone around them.
Graham, a stocky (5-foot-10, 230 pounds) junior from Lauderhill, Florida, and Moody, a lanky (6-2, 225) sophomore from Bryant, Arkansas, lack only experience as they compete for a starting spot at middle linebacker alongside senior weakside 'backer Zach Harris.
“Both of them can really run,” coach Willie Fritz said. “They are 4.5, 4.6 guys with good size and good strength. They are what you are looking for in a linebacker.”
They just have not gotten the opportunity to show it yet.
Graham played almost exclusively on special teams as a true freshman in 2016 and had limited action at linebacker last year, making 12 tackles.
Moody played sparingly in 11 games as a true freshman in 2017, finishing with five tackles.
Marley made 319 tackles in a stellar career as a four-year starter from 2013 to 2016. Marbley led the team with 96 stops and 9½ tackles for loss a year ago.
Relying on terrific instincts and hard work, neither Marley nor Marbley possessed the raw athletic ability of Graham and Moody.
“They can erase a bad play up front,” Fritz said. “They can chase things down and make it a 10-yard play instead of a 40-yard play. They are really good. They just need more reps.”
Although Graham is bigger than Marley, who was 5-foot-8 and a shade over 200 pounds, he takes heart from his diminutive forerunner’s prowess, admitting to getting a charge every time Marley made a play in film cut-ups the linebackers watch. No Power 5 conference school offered Graham a scholarship, with Tulane, Army and Florida Atlantic his primary pursuers.
“I was always told I’m not supposed to play (Division I),” he said. “The fact that I’m here just motivates me, and I know I can do whatever I put my mind to.”
Moody was even more lightly recruited. Tulane was the only FBS school to offer him, and he jumped at the opportunity after previously committing to Central Arkansas.
When he arrived on campus, the lack of attention from other schools became a mystery. He possesses all of the measurables to be a big-time linebacker.
“My best strengths are going side to side and my coverage ability,” he said. “I’ve got wide range, and my speed helps, too.”
The coaches have been slow to identify a front-runner between the two because it is hard to separate them. Linebackers coach Michael Mutz said each of them will play extensively in a rotation with Harris and have been double-trained at the two linebacker spots since the first day of spring practice.
“They are physical and they both run great,” Mutz said. “The strides they’ve made from spring practice No. 1 until now is unbelievable. They are tough, they'll strike you and you can work with guys that have that type of talent. They have very bright futures here.”
Their competition is friendly but fierce, extending to every activity on and off the field as they try to gain an edge.
“Marvin pushes me a lot,” said Graham, who began preseason practice on top of the depth chart. “It makes me do everything right, from getting to class on time to being focused in the meeting room. I just have to be on my Ps and Qs because Marvin is a competitor, too. He’s shooting for it.”
Moody, who boasts a GPA above 3.0, shared that sentiment.
“With Lawrence it’s pretty tough, but we’re right there neck and neck,” he said. “It pushes us both. We’re always getting to class on time, to meetings on time, running to the ball, getting strips and tips.”
Usually, breaking in a new player at such an important position would be cause for concern. But with Harris leading by example as Tulane’s top returning tackler (69), defensive coordinator Jack Curtis loves what he has in his three-man crew.
No Marley? No Marbley? No problem.
“We're actually in better shape at linebacker than what we've been in the past,” Curtis said. “That's going to help us.”