Friday Night Hero: Salisbury’s Marquies Gaither

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 5, 2015

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Salisbury went 54 games between shutouts, so Friday’s 34-0 victory against West Davidson left every Hornet with a sense of accomplishment.
Cancer-stricken manager Stephen Gilmore was in uniform, and that played a role in the shutout.
“It was great having Stephen on the sidelines with us last year, but he’s been sick this year and we’ve really missed him,” Salisbury senior Marquies Gaither said. “We play every Friday for Stephen, but seeing him in uniform made us play even harder. He makes us realize how fortunate we are to be healthy and able to play football.”
Salisbury’s defense hadn’t put up a goose egg since it posted three during the 2011 season.
Gaither plays one of the two “Hornet” positions for Salisbury. He had as much to do with Friday’s shutout as anyone, with two sacks and two more tackles for loss.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Salisbury coach Ryan Crowder said. “He’s long and he’s quick. He’s exceeded all our expectations.”
The “Hornet” in Salisbury’s 3-5-3 defense is called a “spur” at most schools. The “Hornet” is part strong safety, part linebacker and part defensive end. Against West Davidson, Gaither (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) was mostly a defensive end, blowing in off the edge to disrupt the Green Dragons’ offense.
Gaither was a second-unit player as a junior and got minutes backing up classmate Eric Gibson. Crowder estimates Gaither played about 15 of every 50 snaps.
“I’d get in for a series or two, but then I’d come out,” Gaither said. “I’ve just been waiting to get on the field. This year I’m finally getting to start. I do my best.”
It was actually Gibson’s transfer to North Rowan that opened a starting position for Gaither. He’s taken advantage of his opportunity, although Crowder admits that back in August, the coaching staff wasn’t sure Gaither was ready for it.
“We knew we had Darius Jackson to play one “Hornet,” but we weren’t sure about the other one,” Crowder said. “We’ve got a fearless kid, Nick Austin, who can play just about anywhere, and we thought we might need him at ‘Hornet.’ But the more we saw of Gaither, the more we realized we could move Nick over to offense and leave him there.”
Gaither has put together a strong season. Highlights show him wrecking Lake Norman running plays and setting the edge on a sweep and stripping a Surry Central back for a fumble. Against West Davidson, Gaither shows up in the offensive backfield and makes the block that springs QB D.J. Alexander for a long gain.
“He’s made some really athletic plays, some wow plays,” Crowder said. “He’s made such athletic plays that sometimes we thought at first it must have been Jackson. But then it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, that wasn’t 10 (Jackson), that was 32 (Gaither).'”
Salisbury led West Davidson 20-0 at halftime, but the Green Dragons returned the kickoff past midfield and were looking to change momentum.
On third-and-5 at the Salisbury 40, West Davidson quarterback Carter Beck wanted to throw, but Gaither had other plans.
“We call it a ‘Thunder Blitz,'” Gaither explained with a smile. “I just rushed straight off the edge. The quarterback rolled away from me. I knew I might not be able to get my hands on him, but I chased him, made a dive and was able to get his legs.”
It was a sack for a loss of 10 yards.
That was Gaither’s second sack. He also had one early in the game on another “Thunder Blitz.”
“I came off the right edge again, but that time the quarterback tried to step up into the pocket,” Gaither said. “I got his legs and got him on the ground.”
While he’s not big, Gaither has worked to put on muscle and is 15 pounds heavier and much stronger than last year. He’ll stand his ground against the run.
“My best hit on Friday was on a running play,” Gaither said. “They handed off to a back and I blitzed, and he was right there. I ran right into him.”
Salisbury’s defense has been stout this season.
While the Hornets are 3-7, they’ve lost Central Carolina Conference games 14-7, 17-14 and 14-6. In their five games against 2A opponents, they’ve allowed 10.2 points per game.
“I couldn’t ask for a better defense to play on or for better guys to play with,” Gaither said.
Salisbury plays at rival North Rowan on Friday. It probably will be the last game for Salisbury’s seniors, but they want to make it one they can look back on with pride.