On a May afternoon following the 2007 NFL Draft, several Baltimore scouts were meeting in the office of Joe Douglas, who at the time, was in charge of cross-checking all offensive line prospects the Ravens deemed draftable.
Without notice, then-director of college scouting Eric DeCosta walked into the room and made a silent, yet attention-striking statement.
Picking up a Dry Erase marker, DeCosta quickly scribbled something on Douglas' whiteboard. Never uttering a single word, he then turned around and exited the office – leaving behind a message that had his scouts beaming.
YANDA = TOUGH-A**
DeCosta's declaration came fresh off his return from the Ravens' first offseason rookie minicamp. In practice that day, a young Marshal Yanda had made an immediate impression – one that began validating the Ravens' decision to utilize a third-round pick on the promising Iowa Hawkeye.
Receiving high grades from every Ravens scout who evaluated him for months, Yanda exhibited outstanding intelligence, an exceptional work ethic, a desire to excel, and most importantly, a level of toughness that went beyond extremes.
Recalling Baltimore's initial evaluation of Yanda, Douglas states: "We knew we could win with this guy on our offensive line."
Backtrack to Yanda's childhood – a time when he actually* quit* playing football. The reason behind it? Well, he was actually* too tough*.
Growing up on an Iowa farm in the rural town of Anamosa, Yanda had long desired to play football. "It's just what I always wanted to do," he says.
Forced to join a flag football team due to the long wait list of a nearby Pop Warner tackle league, Yanda first stepped on the gridiron as an anxious and aggressive sixth grader. Unfortunately for him – yet luckily for his peers – things didn't work out so well.
"I played my first two games of flag football, and then I quit," Yanda affirms. "All they would let you do was rip the flags off, but I wanted to hit somebody. I didn't want that flag football crap; I wanted to tackle. From a very young age, I just loved being physical and knocking guys down."
Though he had to wait an entire year before joining the seventh grade tackle league, Yanda finally received the opportunity to assert himself on the football field. Immediately, he began doing so in a manner that mirrored his family's grind-it-out farming lifestyle.
"With me growing up on a farm, we always had to work for something, and we never had it easy," shares Yanda, who says his family milked cows twice a day – first at 4 a.m., then at 4 p.m. – and never took any type of vacation.
"Work always came first. That was all we knew, and we just thought that's how life was. But, seeing how hard my parents worked and what they instilled in me – that's where I developed this mentality. With football, I realized that you can be a great player when you have ability, but you can go really far if you get every inch out of your body and work hard daily. That's the mentality I have every day."
It was that intrinsic attitude that developed Yanda's unique work ethic and forged his rare toughness. Additionally, it was that approach that fueled his appetite for success and eventually propelled him to NFL heights.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2012. Coming off a season in which he earned his first Pro Bowl honor, Yanda was quickly becoming a household name. A key ingredient in the Ravens' recipe for success, he was someone Baltimore fans adored, and opposing defenses dreaded.
In the midst of a great training camp, Yanda continuously displayed a style of leadership defined by strength, tenacity and dedication. Without question, his influence blended perfectly into a veteran-laden squad with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. In fact, during a speech he gave to the team following a grueling practice, Yanda implored his teammates to "Embrace the Grind." Naturally, his rousing instruction yielded what eventually became a 2012 Baltimore battle cry.
As the season progressed – and the Ravens experienced many emotional highs and lows – Yanda's grit would be tested mightily.
During one particular game, Yanda suffered a painful shoulder injury. After fighting through the discomfort for several weeks – never missing a practice or a game – Yanda eventually learned that he had sustained a partially torn labrum. Soon after, he was forced to make a difficult choice.
"I had played with it for a while and reached a point where I had two options," he recalls. "I could either take it day-by-day and continue to gut it out, or I could get surgery and be out for the remainder of the season.
"I had already done it for a while, so I figured I'd just keep on fighting. The NFL is an everyday struggle and a constant fight. I just decided to see how long I could keep going."
Incredibly, Yanda continued to battle for the Ravens, gritting through not only the shoulder pain, but also a nasty ankle sprain that hampered him.
"It was tough last year," he remembers. "The off days were miserable, and I really didn't want to do much. But even in high school, I remember hearing: 'There are ouchies, and there are injuries.' At the NFL level, sometimes you just have to fight through it."
Though he'd miss Week 15's contest against Denver while resting his ankle, Yanda was determined to return the following Sunday versus the New York Giants. With playoff hopes and an AFC North title on the line, the Ravens faced a must-win situation.
"I couldn't miss that one," Yanda reveals, noting that he made a decision to play, but only because he felt it'd be at a high level. "I wasn't just going to power through and not play well. I would never want to hurt the team. Only a selfish person would do that. If I ever got to the point where I was hurting the team, well heck no, I was going to let somebody else get in there and play well."
Aided by a valiant performance from Yanda, Baltimore beat New York to secure the division title and a postseason berth. Though he understood just how battered his body was, Yanda took solace in knowing that he could miss the no-implication, regular season finale at Cincinnati. Certainly, a little rest would significantly help him prepare for the playoffs.
"After the Giants game, I was in bad shape. But we were going to be in the playoffs. So considering we had made it that far, why couldn't I just keep grinding it out?"
What happened next is well documented. Producing one of the most incredible postseasons in NFL history, the Ravens went on an astounding four-game winning streak – capping it off with their Super Bowl XLVII title.
Amazingly, Yanda didn't miss a single play during Baltimore's championship charge, playing in all 282 snaps. And not only did he persevere through the pain, but as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell would later note: "Marshal also played at an exceptionally high level."
"In the end, oh my gosh, it was all worth it – 150 percent," Yanda affirms. "If I would have missed out on last year, that would have killed me. That was part of the journey. I'm just happy we experienced everything we did and that I was able to grit through it all."
So what kept Yanda mentally strong in the face of last season's physical pain? What was it that fueled his Herculean ability to keep pushing forward?
"A Super Bowl is a great goal, but it can't be why you play this game. It has to be for your love of the game and for the guy lined up next to you. In the end, it's about the competitiveness, the work you put in, and because you love it."
As if further proof was needed, it's clear that DeCosta's initial assessment in 2007 was spot on. Because certainly…
YANDA = TOUGH-A**