On Thursday, December 14, former Nature Coast Tech (class of 2020) and Valdosta State Center Michael Marotta announced his commitment to play for Old Dominion University. After a brief stint in the transfer portal, the center posted an edit on X/Twitter with the words “Recruitment closed.” The 6’5” 300-pound lineman will have two years of eligibility remaining to play for the Monarchs. What led Marotta to choose to play for the college situated in Norfolk, Virginia?
Despite experience taking high priority with his former coaching staff, Marotta earned a spot on Valdosta’s starting five by making himself “invaluable” on the line. Though he came to college as an unrefined prospect, Marotta quickly worked on his play and smoothed the edges in his game he previously had as a high schooler. After some time going head-to-head with other players in his division,the Valdosta staff had developed Marotta well and he felt he would be better served at a college with “a little bit more exposure.” The center knew his chances of reaching an NFL roster would likely be improved by moving to division 1 for his final two seasons.
“[Valdosta] State was awesome,” Marotta said. “I wasn’t where I needed to be as far as development coming out of high school, obviously, which is why I ended up going to a division 2 level even though I had all the tools you would need: size, athletic ability, and everything… At Valdosta, I got some of the best technique coaching you could get… It’s kind of a pit stop for guys who want to go make it big… It kind of molds you into a really high-level, championship caliber player even though it’s not on the same stage as a lot of bigger division 1 programs.”
Following the Blazers’ loss to the Lenoir-Rhyne University Bears in the division 2 playoffs, Marotta entered his name into the transfer portal. With the portal’s window being open from December 4, 2023 to January 2, 2024, there is not much time for players to find a school and for coaches to sell prospective players on their universities. Within two minutes of the lineman announcing his intention to transfer, he was swamped with calls from interested coaches. He received over 200 phone calls in the first three days and was fielding those calls non-stop. Coaches were selling their school hard, and the process required a quick decision for the lineman as he looked for a school to spend the latter end of his college career.
“Obviously, there is the element of time pressure,” Marotta said. “When you have limited eligibility left, you want to go somewhere to play. You don’t want to go somewhere to develop or anything like that. So, you got to make moves quick. If you stay in the portal for too long, you can get stuck. That’s how guys end up going lower than where they were initially because they made the wrong decisions while they were in the portal. So, it is a very fast-moving process.”
As Marotta described it, the portal is very different from the recruiting circuit in high school. During this phase, coaches have more time to watch film and build relationships with players. There is a much greater window for evaluation as opposed to the portal where coaching staffs are looking for an almost immediate commitment. Various levels of universities reached out including Kansas State, Texas Tech, Baylor, USF, Miami, and UCLA, and UCF’s Offensive Line Coach Herb Hand even came to his house to gauge Marotta’s interest.
Finding a landing spot in the upper echelon of the college ranks was crucial. According to Marotta, the level of evaluation is not always there in division 2 as it is in division 1. Plenty of players fly under the radar and do not receive opportunities to play in major college football or the NFL because of this. The center pointed to Valdosta State alum Kenny Moore II, who Marotta dubbed “probably the best slot corner in the league,” as one who overcame this hurdle. While Moore’s story is one of hard work paying off, many more players never have the opportunity to show their skills for one reason or another. The center was appreciative of the legwork the Sharks’ staff put in to get his name out to college coaches to ensure that his story has another chapter still to be written.
“I’d love to thank Coach [Robert Kazmier] and everyone at Nature Coast,” said Marotta. “They helped push my name out there as far as recruiting goes because once you hit the transfer portal, it is you. I was lucky to have them pushing my name out there to even more college coaches, which is probably the reason I had so many phone calls, offers, and whatnot. Definitely, they played the biggest part in my recruiting. Then, I’d like to thank my mom and my dad, obviously.”