Nico Marley: Grandson of Bob Marley on his reggae roots and rise to the NFL

Nico Marley
Nico Marley says the message behind his grandfather's music is "something I stick with every day"

Reggae music legend Bob Marley died in 1981. His grandson Nico, who has just broken into the NFL, is 22 and never met his grandfather. His rise is a story of hard work, family bonds and shared memories of a global icon, not just the poster on the wall.

"My granddad was such a big inspiration that everyone has a little piece of him. The music touched people but it goes deeper than music - it's the message," says Nico, who signed for the Washington Redskins as a free agent in May.

"I watch his interviews just to see how he used to be. Everything he did was about positivity and coming together as one. Whenever I get the time, I sit down and think about what I can be doing to help others, but also how my thinking can help me throughout my day and my life."

He quotes the lyric "none but ourselves can free our minds", from Redemption Song.

"It's about being a free spirit, accepting that you are in control of how you perceive everything," he added. "That's something I stick with every day.

"You may think something bad but you always have to have that inner voice that keeps tells you - keep going through and you will keep getting better."

Nico's father Rohan was an American footballer too. He played at the University of Miami with Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp and Dwayne Johnson - the Hollywood actor also known as The Rock in WWE.

But despite his famous name, Nico's has been a story of hard work. He had to try out for a place with the Redskins - he wasn't picked in the draft, where the elite of the college game are signed up.

Rohan Marley

In the end his dad Rohan was considered too short to make it as a professional. A linebacker is typically much taller than his 5ft 8in.

Nico is the same height and plays the same position, at least four or five inches below those who might already be established in a coach's thoughts. This is where the Marley spirit comes in.

Nico has carried it from Haiti, where he was born, to Jamaica, which he left when he was four, and from his high school side in Weston, Florida, to the Green Wave college football team of Tulane University in Louisiana.

His dad is a busy man. He runs a coffee business with plantations in Jamaica and divides his time between his six other children, including five he had with the singer Lauryn Hill. But like his own father, he made time to get the kids running, competing, staying fit.

"They say the hardest thing is to coach your kids, so my dad did a brilliant job. He never forced it on me but when I got to the eighth grade, that was when I told him yo, this is what I want to do.

Nico Marley and Rohan Marley
Nico Marley was born in Haiti, then lived in Jamaica before moving to Florida as a young boy

"He started to train me, give me advice, tell me things I knew I had to listen to because he had been through it all before. From the 11th grade, that's when it really started cooking for me.

"I ended up getting an offer from Tulane, and at the beginning I didn't even know if I was going to play, but I worked, worked hard, started the first game, and I went from there."

Marley became an integral player at Tulane. He started every one of 48 games over his four years while studying for a business degree. By the time he left, he had become the team's all-time leader in tackles. Smashing into people, hunting the ball down through a melee of powerful bodies - that is his speciality. Helping out with the coffee business can wait.

"Every part of being a linebacker is about your instincts. Finding the ball, making the tackle, covering the defence. I love it."

But with such strong ties to family, how do those closest to him feel about his physical role? Because there is a shadow hanging over American football. It's do to with chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a degenerative brain disease.

CTE is associated with memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It was only last year that an NFL executive publicly recognised evidence that links the impacts suffered by players with such terrible health problems later in life.

Washington Redskins
The NFL season does not start until September, but teams are already deep in training

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a young man who has just found his place on the fringes of the elite, it wasn't really something he wanted to talk about.

"The NFL does a great job, they are finding a way of helmets getting better, teaching us ways to protect ourselves and if you do everything correctly you will be all right. You can get hurt doing anything. I wouldn't say it's dangerous - they do everything to keep us protected."

There is still room for two more Marley family members to enter this story: Nico's mother Geraldine - "my greatest support system, my rock" - and his sister Eden, who runs a charitable foundation in Haiti.

"I have a lot of ideas about doing something similar one day but it's about getting them down on paper," Nico says.

"My sister doesn't know this but I look up to her so much, she is so selfless. I want to be like her because everything she does is to help others, it's beautiful.

"For now, I'm taking everything day by day, learning the play book, practising hard, listening to the coaches, bringing everything I can to this team."

And then he had to go. Manchester United were about to play in the Europa League final, and I don't think it was a coincidence. He's obviously a fan of that other football. Again, just like his granddad.

Nico Marley and Rohan Marley
"When you have sons, they will for sure surpass the works of their father. Keep the fire burning," Rohan Marley wrote in an Instagram post

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