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Man among boys

Ballou's Marvin Austin boasts rare talent in trenches

Posted: Tuesday November 14, 2006 2:39PM; Updated: Thursday January 25, 2007 6:45PM
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One of the nation's top defensive linemen, Marvin Austin will make his college decision on signing day.
One of the nation's top defensive linemen, Marvin Austin will make his college decision on signing day.
Steve Boyle/RISE
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By Jon Mahoney, Special to SI.com, from RISE

Like most D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association football coaches, Ballou head coach Moses Ware is forced to deal with budget constraints that make leading a team as difficult as trying to stop Reggie Bush in the open field.

Outdated equipment and a lack of coaches are staples of these programs, which are filled with talented players but face an uphill struggle when compared to the powerhouse private schools in the Greater D.C. area.

"All the stuff we've either made or it's been handed down for 20 years," says Ware, who played at Ballou two decades ago and is in his first season as coach of the Knights after serving as an assistant at Coolidge for three years. "It's been there since before I was a player."

But amid all that, Ballou is also home to senior defensive lineman Marvin Austin -- a talent so remarkable that no amount of budget constraints or outdated equipment can stand in his way. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder, who's rated the nation's No. 1 defensive player and No. 3 overall recruit in the Class of 2007 by RISE, doesn't lift with state-of-the-art weights or receive one-on-one tutelage from specific position coaches like so many other top recruits across the country.

Rather than complain, however, Austin simply works extremely hard with what he has. That positive attitude, which has helped Austin become such a dominant player, is one he learned from his mother, Donna Johnson, a single parent who has raised Austin, his brother, Lionel, and his sister, Janae.

"My mom told me to do what I can do with what I've got," says Austin, 17, who transferred to Ballou from Coolidge this past summer. "The weights I work with might not look pretty, but they're still the same weight. There's no room for excuses. I see my mom going to work every day and putting a roof over our heads and she never complains. If she can do that, I can go out there and work like she does."

"Marvin works his tail off," adds Ware, who was Coolidge's offensive and defensive coordinator last season. "With him, I try to coach him to the breaking point and he responds to it. He's deserving of everything he gets."

Austin's work ethic and ability were evident right away as a freshman at Coolidge. Despite being so young, he earned starting spots at defensive tackle and fullback.

"I was the strongest player on the team when I was a freshman," says Austin. "I was beating guys who were older than me and I was only 14. That's when I thought I could do something with this. I benched 225 pounds four times and people were like, 'That boy is strong.'"

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