Valley Christian head coach Mike Machado missed the opening minutes of Byron Marshall's high school debut.

The coach quickly learned that it's a mistake you only make once.

When Machado arrived to watch the Warriors' freshman team, his coaches told him that Marshall had touched the ball three times -- and scored three times. On his next two chances, Marshall reversed field to score on a punt return and used a quick cut to break free for a touchdown run.

Five touches, five touchdowns; Machado had seen enough.

"You could start to see that this guy was going to be special," Machado said. "I knew we had a playmaker. I knew that we had a guy who was going to be around the program for a few years, and was going to be a big-play guy in a lot of different ways."

The prolific debut would be Marshall's last game for the freshman team. Just 14 years old at the time, he skipped the junior varsity level entirely and joined older brother Cameron in the varsity backfield.

Byron was an instant contributor on both sides of the ball as a freshman and broke out for 1,116 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns the next season, numbers that earned him state sophomore of the year honors.

Midway through his junior season, Marshall already has 869 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The defending Central Coast Section 100-meter champion is averaging over 10 yards per carry for the Warriors (6-0), who host Bellarmine (6-0) in a West Catholic Athletic League clash Friday.

Marshall is growing as a runner, but Machado says his maturation as a leader has been even more impressive. A penchant for animated celebrations has led to penalty flags in the past, but Marshall has toned it down this season.

Machado waves his hand in front of his face before every game, a gesture meant to remind his star running back to keep his passion on the inside.

"Last year, I was a real emotional player," Marshall said. "I still am, that's just how I play "... but it's more controlled right now."

Machado says the displays of emotion stem from a love for the game that separates Marshall from past Valley Christian stars.

"You know where Byron is different? Byron is like a kid out there. "... This to Byron is like going out and playing ball with his buddies," Machado said. "He has a passion for doing this and a smile on his face. This is truly a game to him."

The game has always come easy to Marshall, the son of a trainer and younger sibling of two college athletes. He grew up playing sports with Cameron and his friends, and says those early games with an older crowd helped him develop quickly.

Cameron, 19, now stars for Arizona State, but Byron isn't likely to follow his older brother to the Southwest.

Byron has already drawn interest from more than 50 schools, a group that includes national powers Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Florida.

Marshall said a number of factors will play into his decision.

"I'm looking for a place that can get me to the (NFL), but also a place that can get me an education," he said. "Even if I go to the League, I'm still going to get my education."

For now, his focus is on pacing the Warriors, but he's going about it a different way than Cameron did. "Cameron would hit the corner, or he would run you over," Marshall said. "He wouldn't juke you all that much. I'd rather juke you than run you over."

The 16-year-old paused and broke into a wide smile.

"But if I have to run you over, I will."

For more on high school sports, see Alex Pavlovic's After School blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/highschools. Contact him at 408-920-5899.