ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio - What began as a joke resulted in an unlikely kicker.
Fairland girls basketball and cross country star Emma Marshall is the Dragons football team's new kicker after an impromptu performance convinced coach Melvin Cunningham that she could handle the job.
"It really started as trash talk between Mr. Cunningham and me," said Marshall, a junior. "I kicked two times and both were good. He asked me if I wanted to kick and here I am."
Marshall comes from an athletic family. Her mom Renee was a standout athlete at Fairland and was a part of the school's 4x200 relay team that still holds the school record of 1:48.4, set in 1984. Marshall's dad Eddie was a swimmer at West Virginia University. Her sister, Allie, plays basketball at Cedarville University. Emma Marshall also is a college prospect in cross country and basketball, but for now is concentrating on helping Fairland's football team return to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Marshall tried kicking straight on, but quickly discovered she wasn't George Blanda.
"I couldn't do that," she said. "When I tried it soccer style, I got pretty good at it."
Pretty good might be an understatement. Cunningham said he transformed from poking good-natured fun to being impressed in a matter of seconds.
"I've never seen a person who didn't know how to do something teach herself and learn how to do it well," Cunningham said. "It all started as a joke, but she can do this. She's watched videos and taught herself. Not a day goes by that she's not working on her craft."
Literally not a day goes by. During a recent beach vacation, Marshall took a football with her and practiced at Waccamaw High School in South Carolina. She filmed herself kicking and sent the videos to Cunningham.
"She's all in," Cunningham said. "We're blessed to have her as part of the team."
Cunningham said he is giving the videos Marshall sent him to Spring Valley assistant coach and former Marshall University teammate Billy Malashevich, a star kicker for the Thundering Herd, to analyze and offer tips.
Marshall is known for her hard work, improving greatly form her freshman to sophomore year in cross country. That work ethic has impressed Cunningham.
"How hard she works will help her," Cunningham said. "It has a spill-over effect on everyone else. She's that way in cross country and basketball, too. It's a great situation."
When Marshall walked into the Carl York Center for media day on Wednesday, some at the other end of the gym wondered how a player could get away with sporting long hair, something frowned upon by Cunningham. Then they realized the blonde locks belonged to a girl.
"You look so cute," said Jenna Stone, a Fairland volleyball player said to Marshall when the new kicker walked in wearing her white No. 1 jersey and football pants.
"I need a picture with you," said Bailey Roland, another Fairland volleyball standout, who quickly took a selfie with Marshall.
Cunningham said Marshall came along at the right time.
"We had to find someone to kick," he said. "It all started out as a joke, but she can kick."