If everything had gone according to plan coming out of high school in Decatur, Georgia., C.J. Marable would be playing against Coastal Carolina once a year.
Luckily for the Chanticleers, things went awry, and an unlikely chain of events led Marable to Conway, where he is the team’s primary offensive weapon this season.
The running back received offers from schools including Marshall, Navy, Ball State and Georgia Southern, he said, and committed to Coastal’s Sun Belt Conference rival Arkansas State, which went 9-4 during his senior year in 2015.
Around signing day, he said Arkansas State’s coaches told him he needed to skip the fall semester because of a low ACT score and he could instead enroll and join the team in the spring semester in 2016.
Marable said he then lost contact with Red Wolves coach Blake Anderson. “I hit them up in like November and they’re not hitting me back,” he said. “. . . I hit him up in December and he wasn’t hitting me back. I was like, ‘Man, they just did me dirty,’ so I was about to go to [junior college].”
Presbyterian coach Tommy Spangler learned of Marable’s predicament and offered a scholarship to join his FCS program. “It was like a Tuesday, and he said if I could get there by Friday I could have a full ride, so I went to PC,” Marable said.
Marable led the Big South Conference in rushing with 1,038 yards as a freshman in 2017. But Presbyterian announced during that season it would become a non-scholarship program by 2020, freeing its players to transfer without penalty.
“After he rushed for what he did at PC in the Big South, I knew he was pretty good,” CCU head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “So we felt he was somebody we couldn’t pass up for what we were trying to do to build our program.”
Marable said he enjoyed his year at PC and considered staying, but the opportunity for a free education and move up to the FBS level in the same conference as Arkansas State was too enticing to pass up, so he accepted a scholarship to CCU.
“I love it here,” he said. “My goal here is to play my heart out every game and let the results happen. I’ve been working hard so I know everything is going to pay off.”
The most anticipated date on Marable’s 2019 calendar is Nov. 16. That’s when the Chants travel to Arkansas State. In a 44-16 loss to the Red Wolves last November at Brooks Stadium, Marable had 92 yards from scrimmage on 12 carries and four receptions.
“I did pretty good, but not what I wanted to do,” Marable said. “That’s one reason I came here too because I was like, ‘Man it’s the Sun Belt and I get to play against Arkansas State.’ So that’s motivation.”
Marable had a team-high 719 rushing yards and averaged 6.1 yards per rush last season while splitting time with Marcus Outlow. But he’s the clear No. 1 in the backfield this season.
He leads the team in both rushing and receiving with 42 rushes for 197 yards and eight receptions for 104 yards, and has scored three of the team’s five touchdowns, including both in the Chants’ 12-7 win over Kansas on Saturday.
“He’s got to be the guy that leads us,” Chadwell said. “He’s the oldest playmaker on our team besides Ky’Jon [Tyler], he’s got great experience, he’s probably one of the hardest workers on our team, he loves to compete. So we’re going to try to put him in positions to take advantage of his talent.”
Marable is about as versatile as a running back can be. He’s fast – he believes he can run the 40-yard dash in about 4.4 seconds, though he hasn’t been timed since running a 4.45 in high school – and physical, so he can run inside and outside of the tackles. He also emphasized improving his blocking in the offseason.
His versatility as a receiver is highlighted in his two touchdown catches this season of 20 and 22 yards. One was on a wheel route down the sideline and one was on a seam route down the middle.
Coastal is thin at running back, which has contributed to his early workload. Marable and fellow junior Jacqez Hairston (5-7, 180) are the two primary backs, and Hairston isn’t much of a receiving threat. They are the only running backs with more than three carries this season.
Freshman Reese White (5-10, 185) of Sandy Springs, Georgia., and redshirt sophomores Baden Pinson (5-10, 210) of Cincinnati and Anthony McAfee (5-8, 185) of Myrtle Beach and Carolina Forest High provide depth, though Pinson has been limited by an ankle injury since the spring.
“We’ve definitely used him quite a bit. Probably used him too much to be honest with you,” Chadwell said. “We’re trying different ways to use him. The key for him is we have to make sure he stays healthy for the rest of the year. So we’ve got to be smarter about how much we’re giving it to him.”
Marable is also a kick and punt returner, though he has yet to be used in those capacities this year, and is on the kick coverage teams. “He does so much outside the box,” Chadwell said. “He’s on every special team, he runs down and makes tackles there. He’s a returner. I think that gives him that special trait that he can do everything, and he does it all pretty well.”
Marable was voted a team captain by his teammates, and his production, work ethic and character combined to make him a prime candidate for the honor. “He’s a great leader. He’s got the right mindset, the right temperament for it,” Chadwell said. “Sometimes when certain guys don’t get certain touches they get upset, which has happened here before. He doesn’t care what he does, he wants to win, and I think that rubs off on his teammates.
“If he doesn’t touch the ball next week, he’ll be just as happy for somebody that did. It doesn’t matter to him. He’s very unselfish.”
Marable, who is 5-foot-9, gained more than 10 pounds in the offseason to increase to 190 pounds and become more durable. “He was just as strong in the fourth quarter [against Kansas] as he was in the first and that has a lot to do with his mindset,” Chadwell said.
He carried the ball 24 times for 148 yards against Kansas, and six carries for 51 yards came during a 14-play drive in the fourth quarter that took 8:40 off the clock and helped the Chants secure the win.
“I’m just happy my coaches trust me to give me the ball and make plays in tough situations,” he said.
Marable has aspirations of playing in the NFL, and is reminded of that daily by a towel that hangs from his beltline with “RIP JC” written in marker in memory of high school friend who was shot and killed last year.
“He always told me during high school I would make it to the [NFL],” Marable said. “He always supported me so I’m just doing it for him. I’m pretty sure that he’s proud of me and wants to see me get to the league, so I’m trying to get to the league for him. That’s one of my motivations.”