OWINGS MILLS – Hauling buckets of grain, performing back-breaking chores, pitching out calf stalls at the family dairy farm later devoted to raising pigs, Marshal Yanda built his legendary toughness.
Growing up on the farm outside of rural Anamosa, Iowa, the Baltimore Ravens’ gritty offensive guard would rise at dawn to tend to the animals.
And the farm work became a competition with his older sister, Katie, before and after school.
“We always worked hard, and that pretty much set the foundation of my work ethic,” Yanda said. “That’s how I go about my day, working hard for the things that you want.”
Yanda grew up four-wheeling, bouncing on a trampoline, go-kart racing and playing basketball.
He later emerged as a scholarship football player and captain of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team following a detour at a junior college after he didn’t apply himself academically in high school.
Today, Yanda has established himself as one of the top offensive guards in the game. He returned to his natural right guard spot this year after signing a five-year, $32 million contract that included a $10 million signing bonus.
Engulfing defensive linemen with a powerful hand punch and leg drive, the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder has provided strong blocking for the sixth-highest scoring offense in the league.
Every snap is a heavyweight fight with Yanda, who transforms football into a brawl with his go-for-the-throat mentality as he plays to the echo of the whistle.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I know,” right offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “I know if I had to be stuck in an alley and had to pick one person to be with, I would pick Marshal to watch my back. I love playing beside him.
“If I have a big game, it’s because of him. If I’m having a good season, it’s because of Marshal. If he don’t make the Pro Bowl, I’m going to be pissed.”
Capable of playing either offensive guard or tackle, Yanda tore three ligaments in his right knee against the Indianapolis Colts three years ago. He regained his leg strength through a grueling rehabilitation.
Three seasons later, the former third-round draft pick brings a sturdy presence to the line of scrimmage.
“You always want to try to be physical,” Yanda said. “They instill that in offensive linemen. You’ve always got to be physical and try to really dominate guys.”
Yanda led a lot of the interference for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice during the Ravens’ 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Rice gained a career-high 204 yards and scored a touchdown, and Baltimore set a franchise record with 55 rushing attempts. The Ravens rushed for 290 yards, the third-most in franchise history.
In particular, Yanda’s ability to pull and kick out defensive ends and linebackers was a pivotal factor in Rice having gaping holes to roam through.
“If you want to talk about every single little technique, I can’t think of one that he’s not good at,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He executes every technique very well. He’s really strong, really strong, great feet, a good bender.
“But that’s not what makes him the player he is. I think it’s just his personality, who he is as a person. Nobody works harder than Marshal. Nobody cares more.”
The lore about Yanda reaches beyond stonewalling Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley or blocking defensive ends that tower above him.
On a cash bet during his rookie year, Yanda supposedly took three Taser shots to the chest.
The story gets better every year since it was actually a stun gun that former cornerback Samari Rolle once brought to work.
“It wasn’t like a cop’s Taser, and it wasn’t that high voltage since Samari had the batteries on low,” Yanda said. “It wasn’t bad at all. They built it up where I got tased. Hey, it was a bet.”
High-intensity and relentless, Yanda is a mauling blocker despite a lack of ideal size.
The avid outdoorsman plays with a pronounced nasty streak.
“It all starts with being physical,” Yanda said. “You have to think aiming point, assignment and landmarks when you’re blocking.”
Other than his bank account, money hasn’t changed Yanda’s lifestyle.
He remains a modest individual whose biggest splurge was purchasing a larger house near the Ravens’ training complex with a backyard for his wife, Shannon, and their young son, Graham.
“It’s not necessarily about the money, it’s more about pride in the game and doing my job for the team,” Yanda said. “The money is great, but when I’m out on the field, I’m thinking about making blocks so my team can win and doing my part to the best of my ability. I’m really happy to be here.”