posted 8 years ago
Chests heaving from exhaustion and arms flailing wildly, Brandon Marshall and Mike Walker took turns body slamming each other.
They had decided just minutes before to play a one-on-one basketball game to determine the best player. But when a definitive decision couldn't be reached on the hardwood, it was time for a let's-take-it-outside moment on the pavement.
"We couldn't even finish the game," Marshall said. "It was kind of one of those brotherly fights, you know. No punches, just a lot of wrestling. That's how much we compete. Still, to this day, we compete like that."
Best friends and former University of Central Florida stars, Marshall and Walker take their lust for competing against one another to a larger stage Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High when the Denver Broncos (4-1) host the Jaguars (2-3).
One of the NFL's emerging stars, Marshall ranks second in the AFC in receiving yards (423 on 34 receptions) as a third-year Bronco. Walker, in his second year with the Jaguars, enters Sunday's game coming off a breakout performance last weekend (six catches for 107 yards) against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Considering where they have come from, the pair's NFL ascension would seem unlikely.
Both chose UCF over big-name schools to remain wide receivers. Major colleges recruited Walker (6-foot-2, 209), who originally committed to Ole Miss, to play cornerback. Marshall (6-4, 230) was urged to play safety.
Their stubbornness about switching positions helped to forge a seemingly unbreakable friendship.
Speaking on the phone or via text messages nearly every day, Walker and Marshall spend most of their down time hanging out with each other's families. When Marshall visits Orlando, Walker's mother, Barbara, does all the cooking. Marshall's family does the same when Walker visits them in Atlanta.
"Both guys have turned out well," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I really liked Mike [Walker] coming out [of college]. I thought he was a very polished receiver who is going to be very successful in the NFL. Obviously, we like Brandon [Marshall], too."
Walker joined the Knights during Marshall's sophomore year (2003), and the pair became friends almost instantly. That bond soon translated into production.
Walker caught 64 passes for 855 yards and nine touchdowns during an injury-shortened junior season at UCF, while Marshall posted the best numbers of his college career (74 receptions, 1,195 yards and 11 TDs, including 18 catches for 319 yards in the last two games with Walker out of the lineup).
"Sometimes, we'd be in the middle of the game, and I'd probably already have 80 yards in the first half. I knew the ball was coming to me, and I'd just tell Brandon to go [to my position]," Walker said. "That's how we used to do it [because] we knew all the positions [and] we knew where the ball was going. We used to do that in the huddle all the time."
Then the next day, the roommates would fire up the computer in their dorm. Every week, they scoured the Internet comparing their statistics to those of other receiving duos.
"It used to be funny because Brandon would be like, 'Man, you had 100 yards more than me.' So the following week, I'd make sure he gets the ball more [and] that he gets more yards than me," Walker said. "Man, we were just trying to get to another level. It's great to play in the NFL, and that was one of our biggest dreams. So we tried to help each other out to make sure we got there."
Considered UCF's home-run hitter, Walker posted better college stats than Marshall, who was known as the team's possession receiver, capable of taking a 5-yard pass the distance. A self-described "late bloomer" now regarded as the better receiver of the two at this point, Marshall said he learned quite a bit in college from Walker and still studies his best friend.
In his second NFL season, Marshall torched defenses last year for 102 receptions, 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. But when Walker posted his first 100-yard game last week, Marshall was the first to offer congratulations.
"You know, it was about time," Marshall said, jokingly. "Y'all got a good receiver down there."
With the game coming this Sunday, the trash talk between Walker and Marshall started earlier in the week. Walker pointed out to Marshall that his stats are better over their last two outings (Walker has 51 yards and one catch more than Marshall).
Marshall reverted back to the basketball game/wrestling match that never determined whom was the better hoops player.
"I've got to say me," Marshall said when asked who won the game. "I was up when we went outside to scrap. When we settled it, I think I was up 6-5."