Friday Night Legend: J.C. Price's Carl Marlin

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 21, 2012

By Mike London
Freshmen were fodder in J.C. Price High’s football program, but a handful of 14-year-olds were determined to make the team in 1963, and they did.
Carl Marlin had grown up across from the school watching legends such as Roy Keith and Joseph Johnson, and he wanted to be like them.
“There was no jayvee at Price, so you had to try out as a ninth-grader and make the team with the big boys and hang on,” Carl Marlin said. “You did whatever you had to. You carried the tackling dummies out to the practice field and you carried them back. You made sure the big fellas had clean towels for the showers. I hung on that year as a fourth-string offensive guard.”
Marlin’s friends Donald Graham and Robert Phillips Jr. also earned their spurs as Red Devils as freshmen. All three hung on together, and in the fall of 1966, when they were seniors, they would serve as Price’s tri-captains.
Price opened in 1922 as the school for Salisbury’s black students, and the football program, coached in its glory years by S.W. “Prof” Lancaster, was a state power through the 1950s. By the mid-1960s, though, the team’s numbers were down.
As a sophomore, Marlin moved to end.
“We didn’t have flankers or split ends,” Marlin explained. “They just called it offensive end.”
Offensive ends at Price mostly blocked.
“We were a running team,” Marlin said. “But Donald was our quarterback that year and he told me one night he was going to throw me a pass, and I’d better catch it for a touchdown. He did – and I did.”
Marlin learned a valuable lesson after catching a touchdown pass against Burlington Jordan Sellers.
“I caught it in the end zone at Boyden’s stadium,” Marlin said. “It was a short pass, but I made it more dramatic by diving. Some of my friends were watching from the visitor’s side because you had a better angle to watch from. So I went over there and slapped hands with them before the extra point. That was stupid. When I got back to the sideline, the coaches chewed me out.”
Fred Ponder and Fred Evans were the coaches then, and the Red Devils were holding their own.
“Usually we’d play nine and we’d win seven,” Marlin said.
There was another position change for Marlin prior to the 1965 season.
“We had two tall receivers come in, one of them back from reform school,” Marlin said. “I was the fastest guy on the team, but they asked me to play center, and that’s the position I played my last two years. Our yearbook at Price called me ‘The Jet,’ but I played center.”
It was a role he relished.
“Our center always was the first out of the huddle, so I got to smack-talk the other team a little bit,” Marlin said with a laugh. “Talking built confidence.”
In the middle of the 1966 season, Ponder got a job offer from St. Augustine’s. Lancaster, the legend who was still Price’s athletic director, returned to the sidelines to coach the final four games.
“Prof had plays that had us scratching our heads,” Marlin said. “But they worked.”
Price’s prime rival in those days was East Spencer’s Dunbar High.
“Prof just said, ‘Men, we’re playing Dunbar tonight,’ ” Marlin recalls. “That’s all it took it took to fire you up for that game. No other pep talk was needed.”
Price’s 26 players took on the Tigers twice in 1966. There was a 12-12 tie in September, but Price rolled 30-6 in a cold November rematch in the final game of Marlin’s playing career.”Fierce games with Dunbar,” Marlin said. “Because everybody knew everybody. I’m friends now with a lot of those players, but we weren’t friends then.”
There was still a segregated black Shrine Bowl in 1966. Phillips represented Price.
“I was kind of hoping Robert would get sick because I was an alternate,” Marlin joked. “Donald and I went to watch Robert play.”
The tri-captains went their separate ways after high school.
Marlin stayed home, got married and went to work. He’s retired from his quality control job at the PPG plant in Lexington.
“I took courses at Davidson County Community College and I worked in a lab just like you see on TV with those NCIS people,” Marlin said.
Graham went to West Virginia State on an academic scholarship. A knee injury ended his football career, but he was a stellar student and became a district judge in Florida.
Phillips’ father had served in World War II, and he entered the Marine Corps a few months after graduating from Price in 1967. In the summer of 1968, he was seriously wounded at Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam, but he made it back home.
Marlin still stays in touch with Graham and Phillips via e-mail, and since the 1970s he’s been coaching North Rowan youngsters in grade school and middle school football, passing on the knowledge he gleaned from Ponder, Evans and Lancaster.
“I coached North Rowan’s athletic director (Bryan Mills), and that’s when you know you’re getting old,” the 64-year-old Marlin quipped. “When I go to the barber shop, the Salisbury people call me ‘Traitor,’ for coaching all those North kids. But it’s all in good fun, and I still love the game.”