Mission Viejo rising senior and Stanford commit Daniel Marx is a rare breed of high school football player. He's a throwback fullback in the era of spread offenses, a 240-plus-pound physical lead blocker who has garnered college attention more for his ability to open holes for running backs than his ability to burst through them.
But Marx possesses more than just brute blocking force. He has excellent hands out of the backfield, a trait he displayed at last summer's Stanford camp where he made a memorable diving catch in a receiving drill.
"Daniel catches the ball out of the backfield very well," said Marx's position coach at Mission Viejo, Curtis Madden, a veteran of the Southern California high school football scene. "For a big man he has very soft hands. He's very sure-handed, he's very reliable. He's a very effective pass blocker. Run blocking, he's just taken that to a different level as well. He's very dependable in that regard."
Marx's combination of skills put him the upper echelon of fullbacks Madden has coached.
"He's really turned his game up to a different level," Madden said. "He's one of the best fullbacks I've ever coached. He and Jahleel Pinner (who now plays at USC) I would dare say are the two best fullbacks I've ever had."
Marx's talents shined early in his career at Mission. He was promoted to varsity in his freshman season of high school.
"He's just very mature for his age and you could see the power," said Bob Johnson, the head coach at Mission Viejo. "He's got a lot of power and athletic power. He was quite a basketball player before he stopped playing basketball. There were games he was scoring 30, 40 points a game in basketball, so he had some agility at he was about 215 - 220 as a freshman I believe. And very thick-legged kid, strong. So he had a lot of speed and talent. So you could see it right away that he would be up with us at the varsity level. He played about three or four games with us at the varsity level, not a whole lot of touches, but certainly in there playing with the big boys as a freshman."
Marx, who has been exposed to some of the best high school football competition in the nation in the rigorous Pac-5 conference, has added to his repertoire in the seasons since he was promoted to varsity. Mission Viejo might even use Marx as a defensive lineman in certain situations this year.
"Like any fullback primarily he's a blocker for us, but he can certainly carry the ball well and catch it," Johnson said. "He's a three-part dual for us and we're going to play him a little bit on defense this year too I would imagine. We're very good on both sides again this year, but he's athletic as heck and you can do a lot of power stuff with him so he's dual threat in that way."
One area both Johnson and Madden mentioned as a work in progress for Marx is his ball carrying. Marx hasn't gotten many touches in the running game due to Mission's stable of talented backs.
"He's certainly going to get more (carries) this year," Johnson said. "He can certainly handle the load. It's probably more on us, not him for improvement. We just need to hand him the rock a little bit more. I think he could be a big back like a (Toby) Gerhart-type guy. He just needs to be featured more and get more carries and catch the ball and stuff like that."
Madden said that Marx has used the offseason to prepare for a heavier workload.
"As a ball carrier last year he didn't carry the ball as much," Madden said. "We had other guys who were filling in that role much more. He was used primarily as a blocker/pass protector and a screen type of guy. This year the commitment that he's done in the weight room and offseason in just the short little time that we had in the spring, his effectiveness this year in the run game will be just I think (improved). That was the one area that I thought he could have worked harder at, and he will agree with that as well. And he's putting in the time and I've seen the improvement already."
If Marx does prove that he can be productive with the ball in his hands, both Madden and Johnson think he'll be a candidate to play early at Stanford. The Cardinal fullback position will be wide open with the departure of Ryan Hewitt in 2013, and while Patrick Skov and Lee Ward will have a significant experience edge, Marx's coaches think he'll be ready if called upon as a true freshman.
"He's an unselfish guy that I think can contribute right away at Stanford," Johnson said. "I'm not putting down anybody they have, I'm just saying I think if need be he's ready to fight for a job right away. I look for great things from him up there."
Added Madden: "I think Daniel is the type of guy, he's extremely intelligent, he's a hard working guy. From a size perspective, from a skillset perspective, I think Daniel can step in and he can be a contributor his first year. I always try to tell guys when they make the transition from high school to college that they should expect to redshirt that first year but that doesn't always work out that way. My last fullback, he didn't redshirt. And I think Daniel will also be another one of those guys that we'll be able to see him play on Saturday's this fall."
Either way, Madden thinks Stanford is getting a gem in Marx.
"Daniel's just such a lovely kid," Madden said. "He's the kind of guy that you would want your daughter to bring home and say, 'Dad, I'm in love with him, I want to marry him.' I mean he's the kind of kid that, he's always, 'Yes sir, no sir.' He's a 4.8 GPA type of guy. He's never in any kind of trouble. He's the first guy in the weight room and the last guy out. He at times can be a reluctant leader, but he's stepped in to that role because he knows that's what is needed to get us where we need to get to. And I think the Stanford people are just going to love him as a player. I think he's a great addition to their family."
Changing perceptions of Stanford
Both Johnson and Madden are uniquely qualified to comment on the rise of Stanford football. Johnson, who's been the head coach at Mission since 1999 and coached high school football since 1973, has seen Stanford at both its best and worst on the field. Madden began his high school coaching career at Southern California powerhouse Serra in 2007 and also has a son (Tre Madden) who currently plays for USC.
Cardinal Sports Report asked both Johnson and Madden to discuss the changes they've witnessed in the Stanford football program over the past half-decade.
Johnson on his perception of the change in Stanford football: I've seen it change in good ways. Not just the win/loss, but you can see it in their style. I think Jim Harbaugh pretty much started it. I think he was a real great hire for them and I think (David Shaw) is just as strong a hire. I just think they're both just outstanding coaches and I think it started with them, and I'm not calling them alike at all, but I think they both are stern but yet caring. They win over the kids. I mean Jim is a guy that will run and throw up with them and really set the stage and there he is still doing it in the pros. He hasn't changed anything. They have different demeanors and temperaments and ways to get it done but I think they're just both fantastic young coaches. Stanford's very lucky to have them. I just think they're both great fits for Stanford, and not to say the other guys weren't before them, but I saw Harbaugh change the attitude up there and it started with it on the offensive side with power football and double tight and shifting a lot, doing a lot of stuff and still being able to throw the ball and have a guy like (Toby Gerhart). So it's just been I think the attitude and the way they've stayed with basically the same offense and program and hard-nosed defensively, it just comes from an attitude and the last two head coaches I think have just done a great job. I think Stanford needed something like that. They're bright enough kids, they're going to follow the leader and they've followed both of those guys. I think it's tremendous. I love seeing it."
Madden on his perception of Stanford's rise: "I'm a football coach first and foremost and so Stanford has always been an institution of excellence that I've always been an advocate of. My brother-in-law actually attended Stanford, he played for them, so I've seen them make the transition from being the quirky, band-having, not highly competitive type of team to becoming a hard-nosed, traditional three yards and a cloud of dust type power running football team. Coach Harbaugh did a wonderful job of getting the program back on the right track and then Coach Shaw has just taken it and ran with it. I think it's just awesome."