Marcelis Branch is listed at 5’9 and 193 pounds. That’s why I was a little surprised when his defensive coordinator at Robert Morris University, Scott Farison, told me Branch benched 405 pounds last year.
Branch, who was signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 draft, has a simple philosophy about lifting. “It’s just gravity,” Branch explains.
“That’s all it is when you’re lifting weights,” Branch said. “It’s just pushing gravity, and gravity’s nothing, so keep moving it. And I just push myself.”
The three-time All-NEC player spent a couple of seasons at cornerback but shifted to safety in his final season at RMU. He’s slotted in to compete for a spot on the free safety depth chart with the Falcons.
Branch said that the safety position is his favorite spot on the field, and many of his favorite players in the NFL have played that position.
“Sean Taylor is probably my favorite NFL player, just how he was like — people feared him,” Branch said. “He would lay the big hits to people. And I also like — like, safety is my favorite spot on the field, too. So I’m happy to play that spot, because a lot of my favorite players played safety. Like Rod Woodson — I think he was a great safety. I like Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu. That’s just to name a few.”
Branch also has one connection to the Falcons. His favorite quarterback of all time was Michael Vick.
Even though many of his favorite players are safeties, there’s not anyone he tries to model his game after, really.
“I probably try and nick and pick certain qualities, like to be a great safety, I feel like you have to be fearless, which I feel like I am,” Branch said. “You have to be fearless because you have to come down and make open field tackles and you have to take risks sometimes and be willing to bite on the play and go get the ball.
“But I just want to play like me — just Marcelis Branch football. I want to make a name for myself and I want people to say, ‘Oh, I want to play like him. I want to play like that guy.’”
Branch knows that, with the Falcons’ coaching staff’s approach to developing young players, he actually has a shot to make the 53 and get on the field. All he has to do is prove that he’s the best guy for the job.
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity. I feel like they’re going to play the best guys,” Branch said. “The best guys should be on the field, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. You can’t put favoritism toward a second-round pick, third-round pick if he’s not meeting expectations when the other guy’s going much harder and is playing way better.
“So I feel like I’m going to come in and I plan on making plays and I plan on getting a lot of playing time. That’s my plan.”
Branch is coming into the NFL out of a small school and without ideal size for the position. But that’s a challenge he’s always had to face.
“I was probably like 98 pounds going into high school. I was always told, like, ‘You’re too little for this. You’re too little for that.’ Whatever,” Branch said. “But I always knew I could play football. This is what I do. So I just figured the only thing I could do now is just work, and that’s how you get anywhere in life is by putting in hard work.”
He knows he has a long road ahead of him as an undrafted player. He’s ready for it.
“It’s nothing new to me. I’ve always been in this competition my whole life, so some guys probably take that as a lot of pressure, but for me, that’s just normal for me,” Branch said. “I’m used to having to prove people wrong and having to take somebody’s spot. I enjoy it, because I like seeing the shock on people’s faces when I make great plays and just do things that they don’t expect from a guy like me.”
On the day that Branch benched 405 pounds, he showed up in the weight room wearing a Superman outfit.
“I’m a big Superman fan, so that particular day, it was the max-out day,” Branch said. “And I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to be like Superman today and try and lift everything.’”
It worked. He also wears a Superman shirt under his uniform on game days, too, to carry that mindset onto the field.
Branch is also a big fan of anime and the lessons that can be learned from some of those characters. They helped shape him into the athlete he is today.
“Those type of characters, if you actually watch the show, they’re pretty much guys who just start from the bottom and they just work hard and become the most powerful people on the entire planet, and it’s like, wow, that’s pretty cool,” Branch said. “And when I was younger, I kind of looked up to those guys, and they’ll work out.
“When I was younger, I would do push-ups because I saw Goku doing push-ups. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to work out, too, to be strong like that guy.’ And it just kind of stuck with me my whole life.”
Branch said his favorite way to relax is to watch Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. The other thing that’s close to his heart is chocolate chip pancakes.
“I love chocolate chip pancakes. I absolutely love chocolate chip pancakes,” Branch said. “I could eat that wherever, whenever. If somebody says, ‘Let’s go eat some chocolate chip pancakes,’ I’m there.”
It’s a very different road to the NFL for undrafted players. Branch said the weeks leading up to the draft were a challenge, because he wasn’t fielding calls from many teams. The one team that consistently reached out to him was the Falcons, but he didn’t get his hopes up until they actually told him they were sending him the contract.
“That’s when I knew everything was real, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is actually happening now,’” Branch said.
Branch is ready to put in the work to earn his place with the team. He knew that if he could catch the eye of just one team, he would make the most of that opportunity.
“All I need is one team out of the 32 to like me, and that’s what I got,” Branch said. “So I got that one team that feels like I can help them win, and that’s all I needed.”